may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Department of Economic Security
File No. 73 T 97
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, Francis C. Ling, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 200, St. Paul, MN 55103-2106 (for respondent commissioner)
Pathways, Inc., P.O. Box 1187, Bemidji, MN 56601 (respondent)
Kathleen Milner, 5512 42nd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55417 (for amicus curiae Minnesota Civil Liberties Union); and
*Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. Art. VI, § 10.
Theresa Nelson, 1021 West Broadway, Minneapolis, MN 55411 (of counsel for amicus curiae Minnesota Civil Liberties Union)
Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Mulally, Judge.
Relator Candace C. Roberts appeals the decision of the Commissioner of Economic Security, denying her claim for reemployment insurance benefits. Roberts challenges the decision on constitutional grounds and argues that the decision is unsupported by the evidence. We affirm.
New Paths hired Roberts in February of 1993 as a part-time, and later a full-time, program coordinator. In January 1997, funding constraints compelled Pathways' board of directors to eliminate her position. Roberts filed a claim for reemployment benefits. The Commissioner of Economic Security denied Roberts' claim, finding that Pathways is an organization operated primarily for religious purposes and is exempt from Minnesota reemployment insurance law. Minn. Stat. § 268.04, subd. 12(10)(a) (1996). Roberts challenges the decision of the commissioner's representative by writ of certiorari.
The findings of the commissioner's representative must be viewed in the light most favorable to the decision and, if there is evidence reasonably tending to sustain them, they will not be disturbed on appeal. White v. Metropolitan Med. Ctr., 332 N.W.2d 25, 26 (Minn. 1983).
The relevant part of the statute on reemployment benefits states: "An Employer is required to contribute to the reemployment insurance fund with respect to wages paid * * * for employment." Minn. Stat. § 268.06, subd. 1 (1996). However, employment does not apply to service performed:
[I]n the employ of a church or convention or association of churches, or an organization which is operated primarily for religious purposes and which is operated, supervised, controlled, or principally supported by a church or convention or association of churches.
Minn. Stat. § 268.04, subd. 12(10)(a) (1996).
Roberts argues that this section does not apply because (1) Pathways' executive director signed documents guaranteeing no religious-based counseling would occur under the auspices of the grant; (2) Pathways intended New Paths to operate financially independent from Pathways, Inc.; (3) Pathways was principally funded by grants from the State of Minnesota with Roberts' position as a program coordinator being entirely funded by state grants.
Roberts' argument that Pathways was not entitled to the protection of the statute because its executive director guaranteed no religious-based counseling would occur is unpersuasive. Pathways operates for religious purposes and is principally supported by the Lutheran Bible Camping Ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Thus, the services performed by Roberts did not constitute employment pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 268.04, subd. 12(10)(a).
Furthermore, a plain reading of Minn. Stat. § 268.04, subd. 12(10)(a), negates Roberts' argument that Pathways was not entitled to the exemption. Pathways and Roberts' position as program coordinator were principally funded by the state and New Paths was intended to operate financially independent from Pathways. The relevant part of the statute indicates that the "financial support of an organization is but one factor considered and is not the sole determining factor." Id. Pathways' funding and financial relationship with New Paths is not determinative of the religious nature of the organization. In determining whether services to an employer are exempt under the statute, the focus is on the nature of the employing organization, not on the nature of the tasks, jobs, or activities in which the employer may engage. Therefore, the commissioner's representative had sufficient evidence to determine that Pathways operated primarily for religious purposes and was exempt from reemployment insurance law.
Finally, Roberts and the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union argue that exempting Pathways from Minnesota reemployment law violates the United States and the Minnesota Constitutions.
The United States Supreme Court has declined to consider constitutional challenges to 26 U.S.C. § 3309(b)(1) (1994), the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA), the federal counterpart of Minn. Stat. § 268.04, subd. 12(10)(a), finding that section 3309(b)(1) could be construed as constitutionally valid from its plain meaning and legislative history. St. Martin Evangelical Lutheran v. South Dakota, 451 U. S. 772, 780, 101 S. Ct 2142, 2147 (1981) (citing Crowell v. Benson, 285 U.S. 22, 62, 52 S. Ct 285, 296 (1932)). Moreover, numerous other courts that have considered statutory and constitutional challenges to section 3309(b)(1), or its state counterparts, have resolved the controversy by statutory construction, declining to entertain constitutional challenges. See, e.g., Community Lutheran Sch. v. Iowa Dep't of Job Servs., 326 N.W.2d 286 (Iowa 1982). Our statute is similar to these in question and, accordingly, we decline to review the constitutionality of Minn. Stat. § 268.04, subd. 12(10).