This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Kandi M. Harrington, et al.,
Northwest Airlines, Inc.,
Department of Employment and Economic Development,
Filed July 3, 2007
Department of Employment and Economic Development
File Nos. 2894 06; 4204 06; 3168 06; 2643 06; 3866 06; 3867 06; 4290 06;
2993 06; 2994 06; 3564 06; 3481 06; 4348 06; 4300 06; 2800 06; 2920 06; 3235 06;
3764 06; 5010 06; 4238 06; 4239 06; 3875 06; 4236 06; 4308 06; 3889 06
Marshall H. Tanick, Beth A. Erickson, Mansfield, Tanick & Cohen, P.A., 220 South Sixth Street, Suite 1700, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for relators)
Elizabeth M. Brama, Briggs & Morgan, P.A., 2200 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Northwest Airlines, Inc.)
Lee B. Nelson, Linda A. Holmes, Department of Employment and Economic Security, First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Department)
Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Dietzen, Judge; and Worke, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Relators, Northwest Airlines flight attendants, challenge the unemployment-law judge’s decision that they were ineligible and disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits, arguing that (1) they were not ineligible from receiving unemployment benefits under Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 13a (2004), because their furloughs were not “voluntary,” work was not available, and they were misled regarding eligibility by Northwest Airlines and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development; and (2) they were not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because they had good reason to quit due to the significant decrease in their compensation. We affirm.
In September 2005, respondent Northwest Airlines, Inc. (NWA) filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. NWA determined that it must reduce its workforce by at least 13% and sent its flight attendants a “Notice of Reduction in Force.” The notice stated that 900 flight attendants would be involuntarily furloughed—laid off—by October 31, 2005, and another 500 laid off in January 2006. In order to offset the involuntary furloughs, NWA offered flight attendants the opportunity to take a voluntary furlough, which would last for 12 months, could be extended upon mutual agreement to 60 months, would allow flight attendants to retain and continue to accrue seniority, and would cease all benefits. Relators, 21 NWA flight attendants, requested and were granted voluntary furloughs.
Relators then applied for unemployment benefits. Respondent Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) sent relators determinations of ineligibility after finding that:
On 10-31-05, [NWA] permanently laid off approximately 900 flight attendants. In September 2005, the employer offered voluntary furloughs to flight attendants who were not part of the 900 but were willing to accept a one year leave of absence without pay. The applicant[s] w[ere] not among the 900 who were to be laid off. The applicant accepted a voluntary furlough and w[ere] told it would save the job of a less senior flight attendant. Continuing work was available to the applicant[s]. The applicant[s] chose to become unemployed and [are] therefore on a voluntary leave of absence and  ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Relators appealed to an unemployment-law judge (ULJ) who conducted a consolidated hearing.
Prior to the hearing, it was stipulated that several relators would testify for the group as a whole and that their testimony would be substantially similar to that of all of the relators. Relators’ testimony focused on the assertion that they requested voluntary furloughs because the amount of flying time had been drastically reduced before the bankruptcy, which resulted in a significant decrease in compensation. Several relators testified that they contacted DEED before requesting the furlough and were told that they would qualify for unemployment benefits. Relators also testified that they were notified by NWA that, based on their seniority, they would have been involuntarily furloughed in the second round of layoffs in January 2006. But because a smaller number of flight attendants were actually laid off in the second round, relators would not have been involuntarily furloughed. Additionally, NWA agreed that it would not take a position on relators’ eligibility for unemployment benefits.
The ULJ determined that relators were ineligible for unemployment-benefits after finding that NWA had work available to relators, and relators chose voluntary furloughs rather than continue working. The ULJ found that relators were not out of work because of involuntary unemployment, and that under Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 13a(a) (2004), an applicant on a voluntary leave of absence is ineligible for unemployment benefits for the duration of the leave. Regarding relators’ argument that the reduction in earnings gave them good reason to quit, the ULJ determined that under Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 13a(c) (2004), a voluntary leave of absence shall not be considered a quit for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 268.095 (2004). Therefore, the standard of whether relators had good reason for quitting was not applicable. The ULJ did, however, explain that in any event relators’ hourly wages had not been reduced because they continued to receive the guaranteed 75-hours-per-month pay. The ULJ found that “[t]he only reduction was in the amount of extra payments received. This reduction in extra payments for a few months is not so substantial as to cause [relators] to not have a voluntary choice in deciding on a furlough.” Relators’ decrease in extra compensation resulted from a lack of extra flight hours, short-crew pay, per diem pay (hourly rate for time away from home base), lead-flight-attendant pay, and international-flight pay. Relators requested reconsideration, and the ULJ affirmed his decision. This certiorari appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
This court may affirm the decision of the ULJ, remand the case for further proceedings, or reverse or modify the decision if
the substantial rights of the petitioner may have been prejudiced because the findings, inferences, conclusion, or decision are:
(6) arbitrary or capricious.
Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 7(d) (2006). Findings of fact are viewed in the light most favorable to the ULJ’s decision, and deference is given to the ULJ’s determinations of credibility. Skarhus v. Davanni’s Inc., 721 N.W.2d 340, 344 (Minn. App. 2006).
Voluntary Leave of Absence
Relators argue that the ULJ erred in
determining that they were on a voluntary leave of absence when work was
available and, therefore, were ineligible for unemployment benefits. “An applicant on a voluntary leave of
absence shall be ineligible for unemployment benefits for the duration of the
leave of absence.” Minn. Stat. §
268.085, subd. 13a(a) (2004). “A leave of absence is voluntary when work
that the applicant can then perform is available with the applicant’s employer
but the applicant chooses not to work.”
The ULJ’s findings are supported by the record. Relators would not have been subject to the first round of involuntary furloughs. And while they were on notice that they would be subject to the second round of involuntary furloughs, the number of involuntary furloughs was lower than expected, and therefore relators would not have actually been involuntarily furloughed. While we understand that relators would not have known this fact at the time they requested the voluntary furloughs, work was available to them until January 2006 had they chosen not to request the voluntary furloughs.
Additionally, the finding that
relators took a voluntary leave of absence is supported by the
collective-bargaining agreement between relators and NWA, which defines
voluntary furloughs and involuntary furloughs separately. Voluntary furloughs are offered by NWA with the intent of reducing the number of
involuntary furloughs. Flight attendants
must apply for a voluntary furlough; it is not forced on them. Involuntary furloughs occur as a result of a
reduction in force, are not offered by NWA, and flight attendants do
not have a choice whether to accept the furlough. The collective-bargaining agreement
separately defines a leave of absence, which may be granted in such instances
as medical disability, maternity leave and parental leaves, leaves under the
Family and Medical Leave Act, military leaves, jury duty, union leaves, and
Finally, relators argue that they were misled by the inaccurate information given to them by NWA and DEED. Relators argue that while NWA represented that it would not contest relators’ unemployment-compensation claims, it sent an attorney to the hearing, who took a position adverse to that of relators. But there is nothing in the record to support this argument. NWA’s attorney stated that NWA did not take a position regarding the benefits. Any questions asked by NWA’s attorney were merely to clarify issues relating to how relators were compensated. Further, representations made by an employer regarding an employee’s eligibility for benefits are never binding on DEED; therefore, any representations made by NWA regarding relators’ eligibility do not bind DEED. Minn. Stat. § 268.069, subd. 2 (2004) (stating agreement between employer and applicant is not binding on DEED); Scheeler, 730 N.W.2d at 288.
Relators also argue that DEED erred in misinforming them regarding their eligibility for unemployment benefits. Some relators began collecting benefits and later had them revoked, while others had their applications denied outright, and still others were told over the telephone that they would qualify only to have their applications denied. For those relators who were told over the telephone that they were eligible and then had their claims denied, there is nothing in the record regarding the content of their conversations with DEED. Despite being told over the telephone that they would qualify, a specific process exists that must be followed in order to apply for unemployment benefits, and relators had not yet even applied for benefits. Therefore, DEED is not bound by the initial responses to inquiries made over the telephone regarding eligibility for unemployment-compensation benefits. Cf. Morales v. Dep’t of Employment and Econ. Dev., 713 N.W.2d 882, 884 (Minn. App. 2006) (holding that when the Department incorrectly told relator he should apply at a later date, the department prevented relator from applying under Minn. Stat. § 268.07, subd. 3b(a) (2004)). Further, regarding those individuals who began receiving benefits and later had them revoked, DEED “may, at any time within 24 months from the establishment of a benefit account, reconsider any determination of benefit account and make an amended determination if [DEED] finds that the determination was incorrect for any reason.” Minn. Stat. § 268.07, subd. 1(d) (2004); see also Minn. Stat. § 268.18, subd. 1(a)(2) (error of Department employee).
Good Cause to Quit
Relators also argue that the ULJ erred in determining that the reduction in extra payments for a few months was not so substantial as to cause relators to not have a voluntary choice in deciding on a furlough. An exception to disqualification applies when the applicant “quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer.” Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (Supp. 2005). “What constitutes good reason caused by the employer is defined exclusively by statute.” Rootes v. Wal-Mart Assocs., Inc., 669 N.W.2d 416, 418 (Minn. App. 2003); Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(g) (2004) (providing that statutory definition is exclusive and that no other definition shall apply).
A good reason caused by the employer for quitting is a reason:
(1) that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible;
(2) that is adverse to the worker; and
(3) that would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment.
Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a) (2004).
“[T]here must be some compulsion produced by extraneous and necessitous
circumstances.” Ferguson v. Dep’t of Employment Servs., 311
Here, the ULJ determined that under Minn. Stat. § 268.085, subd. 13a(c) (2004), a voluntary leave of absence shall not be considered a quit for purposes of Minn. Stat. § 268.095 (2004). Therefore, the standard regarding whether relators had good reason for quitting is not applicable. The ULJ also ruled that the reduction was not so substantial as to render the leave involuntary. Relators testified that they continued to receive the guaranteed 75 hours per month of pay, despite the fact that their hours had fallen below 75 hours per month. The decrease in relators’ compensation resulted from a lack of extra flight hours, short-crew pay, per diem pay, lead-flight-attendant pay, and international-flight pay. While NWA is required to pay flight attendants these forms of compensation when the situation arises, there is no requirement that NWA create situations when flight attendants would receive the extra compensation; therefore, there is no guarantee that flight attendants will receive any further compensation beyond the guaranteed 75 hours per month. The ULJ did not err in determining that the reduction in extra payments for a few months was not so substantial as to cause relators to not have a voluntary choice in deciding on a furlough.