STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Rozlon D. Thomas,
John Alden Life Insurance,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Filed June 29, 1999
Department of Economic Security
File No. 6711UC98
Howard L. Bolter, Borkon, Ramstead, Mariani & Letourneau, Ltd., 485 Northstar East, 608 Second Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for relator)
John Alden Life Insurance, St. Louis Park Loc. #231, c/o Gates McDonald/Gibbens, P.O. Box 3930, Des Moines, IA 50322 (respondent)
Kent E. Todd, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner of Economic Security)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Norton, Judge.[*]
Relator Rozlon D. Thomas contends the representative of the Commissioner of Economic Security (the commissioner's representative) erred in concluding that she did not quit her job for a good reason caused by her employer. We affirm.
In proceedings of this nature * * * review is limited to a consideration of whether the department kept within its jurisdiction; whether it proceeded on an erroneous theory of law; whether its action was so arbitrary and unreasonable that it represents its will and not its judgment; or whether the decision of the department is without evidence to support it.
Johnson v. Wilson & Co., 266 Minn. 500, 507, 124 N.W.2d 496, 501 (1963). The findings of the commissioner's representative must be viewed in the light most favorable to the decision. White v. Metropolitan Med. Ctr., 332 N.W.2d 25, 26 (Minn. 1983).
A determination of the commissioner's representative regarding the reasons for an employee's separation is a factual determination. Embaby v. Department of Jobs & Training, 397 N.W.2d 609, 611 (Minn. App. 1986). However, whether an employee had good cause to quit his or her job is a question of law. Wood v. Menard, Inc., 490 N.W.2d 441, 443 (Minn. App. 1992).
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (1998), states that, "[a] claimant who quits employment shall be disqualified from benefits: (1) unless the claimant quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer; * * *." A good reason for quitting caused by the employer is a reason:
(1) that is directly related to the employment and for which the employer is responsible; and
(2) that is significant and would compel an average, reasonable worker to quit.
Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a)(1), (2) (1998). While the initial burden to show that the employee quit is on the employer, once the employer has established that the employee quit, the burden shifts to the employee to show a good reason caused by the employer for quitting. Marz v. Department of Employment Servs., 256 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 1977). The issue of good cause to quit is a question of law that "is not binding on this court if it does not have reasonable support in the findings." Zepp v. Arthur Treacher Fish & Chips, Inc., 272 N.W.2d 262, 263 (Minn. 1978).
"Good cause" to quit has been defined as a reason that is "real, not imaginary, substantial not trifling, and reasonable, not whimsical * * *." Ferguson v. Department of Employment Servs., 311 Minn. 34, 44 n.5, 247 N.W.2d 895, 900 n.5 (1976) (citation omitted). In determining good cause, the standard is "reasonableness as applied to the average man or woman, and not to the supersensitive." Id. The Minnesota Supreme Court has determined that racial discrimination is a good cause attributable to the employer for leaving employment. Marz v. Department of Employment Servs., 256 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 1977). If an employee has complained of harassment and has not received assistance or an expectation of assistance, the employee also has a good cause to quit. Hanke v. Safari Hair Adventure, 512 N.W.2d 614, 617 (Minn. App. 1994) (citation omitted).
Relator contends the commissioner's representative erred in concluding that the employer adequately responded to relator's allegations of harassment. We disagree. The record indicates that relator's employer: (1) gave relator two days off of work; (2) transferred relator to a new supervisor; and (3) expressed a willingness to address the allegations further with relator. Viewed in the light most favorable to the representative's decision, the record reasonably supports the representative's conclusion that relator's employer appropriately responded to relator's allegations of discrimination and harassment.
Relator contends the commissioner's representative committed reversible error by analyzing relator's discrimination claim from the perspective of the employer rather than from relator's perspective. See Dachel v. Ortho Met, Inc., 528 N.W.2d 268, 270 (Minn. App. 1995) (stating that "an employee may have good cause to quit even if the employer did not act unreasonably or unfairly * * *"). We disagree. While the commissioner's representative stated that "the employer's actions were reasonable under the circumstance," the commissioner's representative also concluded:
[T]he evidence does not show that the claimant was subjected to racial discrimination. Further, the employer did take some steps to respond to the claimant's complaint. The claimant was also given training and assistance to improve her job performance.Because these findings are supported by the record, we conclude the commissioner's representative correctly addressed relator's discrimination claim.
An employee who quits to avoid a possible discharge quits without a good reason attributable to the employer. See Ramirez v. Metro Waste Control Comm'n, 340 N.W.2d 355, 357-58 (Minn. App. 1983) (holding that claimant, who resigned to avoid discharge after arriving late to work where claimant had been warned that he would be discharged if he was tardy again, voluntarily quit without good cause attributable to employer). Moreover, the record supports the finding of the commissioner's representative that, at the time she resigned, relator's discharge was not a foregone conclusion. The representative stated:
The evidence indicated that the claimant had the ability to perform her duties in a satisfactory manner. It is possible that the claimant could have met the employer's standards had she remained at her job and continued to benefit from the assistance and training provided.Relator's supervisor testified that relator was capable of doing the work and only months before had performed adequately. Thus, the conclusion of the commissioner's representative that relator was capable of performing her duties in a satisfactory manner and may not have been discharged is reasonably supported by the record.
We also reject relator's contention that the commissioner's representative erred in concluding that the combined work pressures created by the alleged racial discrimination and probation did not create an atmosphere in which relator had a good cause to quit attributable to her employer. See Porrazzo v. Nabisco, Inc., 360 N.W.2d 662, 663 (Minn. App. 1985) (stating that combined work pressures can create atmosphere in which employee may have good cause to quit attributable to employer). As discussed above, the record reasonably supports the findings of the commissioner's representative that relator was not subject to racial discrimination and that the employer adequately responded to allegations of harassment. Thus, viewed in the light most favorable to the decision, the record reasonably supports the finding of the commissioner's representative that relator did not have a good cause attributable to her employer to quit her job.
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.