Department of Employment
and Economic Development,
Filed June 12, 2007
Department of Employment and Economic Development
File No. 3370 06
Sherrie A. Williams, 2315 West
Second Street, Upper Unit, Duluth, MN 55806-3496 (pro se relator)
Meridian Services Inc., 44 28th Avenue North, St. Cloud, MN56303-4588 (respondent)
Lee B. Nelson, Linda A. Holmes, Department of Employment and Economic
Development, First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200,
St. Paul, MN 55101-1351 (for respondent Department of Employment and Economic
and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Halbrooks, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
By writ of certiorari,
Sherrie Williams challenges an unemployment law judge’s determination that she
quit her employment with Meridian Services Inc. and is disqualified from receiving
unemployment benefits. She argues that
her employer discharged her and that she did not receive a fair hearing. Because the record supports the finding that
Williams quit, and it demonstrates that she received a fair hearing, we affirm.
Sherrie Williams was
employed briefly as a part-time counselor by Meridian Services Inc. from July
to September 2005. This case primarily
concerns how to define the end of Williams’s employment. Williams contends that Meridian
discharged her, while Meridian
contends that Williams voluntarily quit when she failed to report to work.
Williams was injured at work on September 3, 2005. Her chiropractor initially recommended no work
for two weeks, but on September 14 changed her work restrictions and cleared
her to work for up to fourhours a
day engaging in only nonstrenuous tasks. The same day, Williams’s supervisor, Jennifer
Meixell, telephoned Williams and left a message for her to report for work at
9:00 the next morning. Williams returned
the call that evening, questioning how Meridian
received information from her chiropractor.
She told Meixell that she was unaware of the changed restrictions and
that she had a 10:00 a.m. chiropractor’s appointment the next day. Meixell told her to verify the changed work
restrictions and call her after her appointment.
On Thursday, September 15,
Meixell telephoned Williams early in the afternoon and left a message that
Meridian had received written confirmation from Williams’s chiropractor and
that, consistent with her work restrictions, the company had nonstrenuous office
work for her to perform. Meixell told
Williams that she was scheduled to work from to 1:00 p.m., Monday through Friday,
beginning the next day. She also told
Williams to inform Meixell of any medical appointments that would conflict with
the schedule. Williams did not respond
to the message.
On September 16, Williams
arrived at Meridian’s
office almost two hours late. Williams
was disruptive in the lobby. Stephen
chief administrative officer, and Meixell told her that she was late and that
she should leave and return on Monday at 9:00 a.m. Meixell handed Williams a letter that described
her work schedule. Williams left the
office, but she soon returned and refused to leave. Meridian’s
receptionist called the police, and officers escorted Williams off the
property. The police report of the incident
states that two officers told Williams that she could not return until “her
appointed work time on Monday.”
But on Monday, September 19,
Williams did not report to work at 9:00 a.m.
She telephoned at about 12:30 p.m. and spoke with JenniferSchraut, Meixell’s supervisor. Williamsfirst stated that she was told to return to the office at 9:00 a.m. on
Monday morning. But sheclaimed that both Schraut and the
police had told her she could not return to work. While Williams was on the phone, Schrautspoke to Hage, who confirmed that
Williams was welcome on the property.
Schraut relayed this information to Williams and repeated several times
that she had not been fired, but Williams replied that she would not return to Meridian.
Meridian sent Williams a letter
documenting her September 19 absence and restating her work schedule for the balance
of the week. Williams did not report to
work the following two days. Meridian sent another
letter to Williams when she failed to report on September 20, restating her work
schedule. On September 21, Meridian sent Williams a letter stating that it had been
48 hours since she was last directed to report to work and, in accordance with
company policy, Meridian
assumed that she had voluntarily resigned. Meridian
accepted her resignation.
Williams applied for
unemployment benefits, but the Department of Employment and Economic
Development disqualified her from receiving benefits based on its finding that she
voluntarily quit employment. Following a
hearing, an unemployment law judge (ULJ) also found that Williams had
quit. The ULJ affirmed her order on
Williams’s request for reconsideration.
D E C I S I O N
By writ of certiorari,
Williams now challenges the ULJ’s determination. She contends that she had a daily
10:00 a.m. chiropractor’s appointment because of her injury, that her
appointments explain her absences, that Meridian
knew about the appointments and refused to accommodate her, and that the
company discharged her to end her workers’ compensation benefits. Williams also challenges the fairness of the
hearing before the ULJ. Her claims are
A person who quits employment without a good reason caused by the
employer is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (Supp.
2005). A quit occurs when the employee
makes the decision to end employment. Id.,
subd. 2(a) (2004). A discharge occurs
when an employer’s words or actions would lead a reasonable employee to believe
that he or she is no longer allowed to work for the employer in any
subd. 5(a) (2004). A discharged employee
qualifies for unemployment benefits unless the employee was discharged for
employment misconduct. Id.,
subd. 4 (Supp. 2005).
We will reverse or modify a
ULJ’s decision if a relator’s substantial rights were prejudiced because the
ULJ’s findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are unconstitutional,
exceed statutory authority or jurisdiction, result from unlawful procedure, are
affected by an error of law, are unsupported by substantial evidence in the
record, or are arbitrary or capricious. Minn.
Stat. §268.105, subd. 7(d)
(Supp. 2005). Whether an employee quit
employment is a question of fact. Midland Elec., Inc. v. Johnson, 372
N.W.2d 810, 812 (Minn.
App. 1985). We defer to the ULJ’s
credibility determinations. Skarhus v. Davanni’s Inc., 721 N.W.2d
340, 344 (Minn. App. 2006).
The record readily supports
the ULJ’s determination that Williams quit her employment with Meridian.
Meixell, Schraut, and Hageeach
testified that none knew of Williams’s ongoing chiropractor appointments. On September 15, Meixell told Williams to
inform her of any appointments that would conflict with the work schedule. The record reflects that Williams told
Schraut about her September 15 appointment.
Schraut and Meixell testified that they could have changed Williams’s
schedule had they known about her other alleged appointments. Williams’s testimony alternated between conflicting
assertions that Meridian knew about her appointments
but refused to accommodate her and that Meridian
never asked her or gave her an opportunity to disclose the appointments. Meridian’s
employees testified that Meridian
first learned of her ongoing appointments in March 2006 when Williams
challenged the department’s determination that she was disqualified from
unemployment benefits. The record
supports the ULJ’s finding that Williams did not notify Meridian that she had ongoing appointments.
Williams’s contention that
she was discharged on September 16 is not supported by the record. Williams testified that she did not return to
work after September 16 because she “wasn’t allowed to return to work” and that
she considered herself fired when Hage told her to leave Meridian’s property. But the record supports the determination
that on September 16, four people expressly told Williams to report to work as
scheduled on Monday. Meixell told her to
come back Monday. Hage confined his
directive that Williams avoid the workplace to that Friday and the weekend, directing
her to return on September 19. And the
police documented that two officers also told Williams that she could not
return to the property until her scheduled work period on Monday. When Williams called Meridian on September 19, Schraut told her
threetimes that she could return to
work. The letters Meridian provided to Williams stated that she
was scheduled to work the week of September 19. Although Williams disputes
that she was told she could return on Monday, we defer to the ULJ’s credibility
findings. The ULJ found the testimony by
employees to be detailed and persuasive, and that even some of Williams’s
testimony supports the ULJ’s decision. See Ywswf v. Teleplan Wireless Servs., Inc.,
726 N.W.2d 525, 532-33 (Minn. App. 2007)
(stating factors ULJ may consider when evaluating credibility). Williams failed to report to work on
September 19, 20 and 21. The record
supports the ULJ’s finding that Williams was stubborn and unjustified in her
refusal to return to Meridian. She defiantly refused to leave when she was
not to be at work, and defiantly refused to return when she was to be at work. Williams voluntarily quit her employment with
We have addressed Williams’s
claim that Meridian did not treat her fairly, we
note without addressing that she alleged that the police did not treat her fairly
when evicting her from Meridian,
and we now address her claim that the ULJ treated her unfairly in the
A ULJ should conduct a
hearing as an evidence-gathering inquiry rather than an adversarial
proceeding. Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd.
1(b) (Supp. 2005). The ULJ must ensure
that all relevant facts are developed. Id. When a party is not represented by counsel,
the ULJ should assist the party with presenting evidence. Minn.
R. 3310.2921 (2005). The ULJ also must
“exercise control over the hearing procedure in a manner that protects the
parties’ right to a fair hearing.” Id.
Williams makes three primary
allegations of unfairness. She maintains
that the ULJ overlooked her evidence, the ULJ treated her unfairly because she
was unrepresented, and the ULJ “cut off” some of her questions to Meridian’s
witnesses. The record does not support
Williams’s allegations. Williams did not
present any documentary evidence that contradicts the ULJ’s findings. And neither party was represented by counsel
at the hearing. The ULJ questioned each
testifying witness thoroughly, offered Williams an opportunity to question Meridian’s witnesses, and
provided Williams several opportunities to testify to anything else she wanted
to add. The record also does not
indicate that the ULJ inappropriately “cut off” Williams’s questions. At times, rather than asking a question,
Williams began presenting a narrative statement. The ULJ appropriately interjected to remind
her to ask a question or to assist her in phrasing the question. When Williams demanded to know how her
behavior on September 16 was disruptive, the ULJ initially told the parties
that she did not want to address the matter in depth because Williams was not
discharged for that behavior. But whenWilliams insisted it was important,
the ULJ allowed the Meridian employees to
respond to Williams’s question, despite its irrelevance. The record establishes that the ULJ conducted
a fair and unbiased hearing.