This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1994).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Mary K. Tillman,
Claire's Boutiques, Inc.,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Filed September 24, 1996
Department of Economic Security
File No. 8640UC95
Patrick M. Connor, Sheila Ketelsen Dokken, Connor & Satre, L.L.P., 900 Lumber Exchange Building, 10 South Fifth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Relator)
William J. Egan, Laurel K. Lee, Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel, L.L.P., 2000 Metropolitan Centre, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Respondent Claire's Boutiques, Inc.)
Kent E. Todd, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent Commissioner of Economic Security)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Norton, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Mary K. Tillman appeals from a denial of reemployment benefits, arguing the Commissioner's representative erred in finding she quit her job for reasons not attributable to her employer. We affirm.
Tillman worked for respondent Claire's Boutiques, Inc. from 1992 to September 11, 1995, as a store manager. In 1995, a personality conflict developed between Tillman and district sales manager Jowain Priley. Priley had placed Tillman on an "action improvement plan" because Tillman failed to follow Claire's procedures in hiring a clerk and failed to complete a major store project on time. Tillman claims Priley harassed her with comments about her age and an alleged affair with the former regional manager.
On July 28, 1995, Tillman contacted Claire's employee relations coordinator, Chris Scaletta, and complained about Priley's harassment and retaliation during the previous seven months. Tillman asked Scaletta to "solve" the problem. Scaletta talked with Priley and Nancy Wilson, Claire's regional sales manager. Both denied Tillman's allegations. Scaletta determined there was not sufficient proof to substantiate the allegations.
On August 30, 1995, Priley, Wilson, and Kurt Thompson, Claire's vice-president/director of stores, "secret shopped" Tillman's store. They concluded that Tillman did not greet any of the customers observed in the store at the time.
The next day Priley, Wilson, and Thompson met with Tillman to discuss her poor performance. Tillman denied the accuracy of their observations and felt the reprimand was in retaliation for the complaint to Scaletta. Thompson, who was not aware of the complaint, offered to intervene and handle the matter. Tillman refused to meet with him. Thompson advised Tillman that she could write him a letter detailing the complaints. Tillman did not do so.
In early September 1995, a different sales manager "secret shopped" Tillman's store and determined Tillman was still not properly greeting customers. Wilson suggested to Tillman that they schedule a meeting for September 9 to discuss Claire's procedures and determine how to help the staff greet customers. Tillman rejected the suggestion, stating it was unnecessary.
On September 6, 1995, Thompson arranged a telephone conference call with Tillman, Priley, Wilson, and Scaletta. Thompson advised Tillman that he was very concerned about her performance and disregard for Claire's procedures. Thompson ordered Tillman to schedule a meeting for September 9 as Wilson suggested. Tillman was upset by this call, denied any customer service problem, and hung up on the conference call.
A few minutes later, Tillman passed out in the back of the store. Tillman was taken to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with a stress-induced migraine. Tillman did not work on September 7 or 8, 1995.
On September 11, 1995, Tillman resigned from Claire's. Tillman stated in her letter that she was quitting because the working conditions were intolerable due to age discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliatory warnings. Tillman did not indicate she was quitting her job for health reasons. Tillman's doctor, however, gave her a letter dated September 11, 1995, addressed "To Whom It May Concern," stating: "This lady can do basic managerial duties, but presently it would not be good for her to return to Claire's Boutique."
Tillman applied for reemployment benefits but was denied because it was found that she voluntarily resigned from her employment without good cause attributable to her employer. The Commissioner's representative upheld the denial of benefits and Tillman appeals.
D E C I S I O N
On review from a decision of the Commissioner's representative, the standard is whether the evidence is sufficient to sustain the Commissioner's findings, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the findings. Ress v. Abbott Northwestern Hosp., Inc., 448 N.W.2d 519, 523 (Minn. 1989). Where the issue involves a legal determination, however, the court need not defer to the Commissioner. Id. This court reviews the decision of the Commissioner's representative rather than that of the referee on issues of credibility. Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995).
1. If an employee voluntarily quits her employment, but can show "good cause attributable to the employer," the employee is not disqualified from receiving benefits. Minn. Stat. §subd. 1(a) (Supp. 1995). Whether an employee had good cause to quit is a question of law. Porrazzo v. Nabisco, Inc., 360 N.W.2d 662, 664 (Minn. App. 1985). Good cause to quit has been defined as a reason that is compelling, substantial and reasonable; not imaginary, trifling or capricious. Ferguson v. Department of Employment Servs., 311 Minn. 34, 44 n.5, 247 N.W.2d 895, 900 n.5 (1976). The reason cannot be attributable to the employee. Id.
Good cause to quit includes harassment on the job. See Larson v. Department of Economic Security, 281 N.W.2d 667, 669 (Minn. 1979). The employee, however, must complain about the offensive conditions and give the employer an opportunity to correct the problem. Id.
The record shows that Tillman was warned a number of times about her failure to follow Claire's procedures. There was no evidence, other than Tillman's allegations, of harassment or discrimination by Priley. Tillman did not discuss with Scaletta ways to ameliorate the situation with Priley. When Thompson specifically asked if he could help Tillman with both the allegations and her performance, she refused. Finally, Tillman quit before any corrective action could be taken by Claire's. Tillman did not have compelling, substantial, and reasonable justification to leave her employment attributable to the employer.
2. An individual is not disqualified from receiving reemployment benefits if
Minn. Stat. §subd. 1(c)(2). An employee has the burden of proving that this "serious illness exception" to disqualification is applicable to her situation. Minchew v. Minnesota Odd Fellows Home, 429 N.W.2d 702, 703 (Minn. App. 1988). What is reasonable for an employee must be determined under the circumstances of each particular case. See id. at 704 (applying standard to facts in case).
- the individual is separated from employment due to personal, serious illness provided that such individual has made reasonable efforts to retain employment.
It is undisputed that Tillman suffered from a severe migraine headache at Claire's probably because of work-related stress. But as the Commissioner's representative found, the evidence suggests Tillman did not make reasonable efforts to retain her employment. She did not ask for time off or a leave of absence. She did not ask for a change of duties or breaks during the day. She did not try to resolve the situation with Priley, even upon Thompson's personal invitation to mediate.