STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Joy M. Pontinen,
Commissioner of Economic Security,
Filed November 2, 1999
Department of Economic Security
Agency File No. 7029UC98
Scott C. Neff, The Trenti Law Firm, P. O. Box 958, Virginia, MN 55792 (for respondent Corner Express)
Kent E. Todd, Minnesota Department of Economic Security, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent commissioner)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
Joy Pontinen appeals the factual basis for the department's denial of re-employment benefits, particularly the commissioner's representative's finding that the employer's testimony was more credible than hers. Because the findings are supported by the record and establish that Pontinen was discharged for misconduct, we affirm the disqualification order.
In mid-1996 the Lautigars stopped receiving income from the store. Paul Lautigar made repeated requests for business records and eventually hired an attorney and filed an action to dissolve the business. Lautigar claims the Pontinens withheld the records from him; the Pontinens claim the records were available at the store but Lautigar was too busy to look at them. During the dissolution proceedings, the district court twice ordered the Pontinens to produce the records. After the second order, the Pontinens delivered the records to Lautigar's garage and strewed them across the floor.
As part of the dissolution proceedings, the court appointed the Lautigars temporary managers of the business. Joy Pontinen was allowed to continue working full time at the store; however, the Lautigars were to make business decisions. While Lautigar was managing the store, Pontinen repeatedly countermanded or ignored his instructions. In August 1998, acting under a court order, the Lautigars bought out the Pontinens' interests in the store. The court order prohibited the Pontinens from entering the store. Joy Pontinen worked her last day on August 10, 1998.
Pontinen sought and intially was granted re-employment benefits. The business appealed the grant of benefits. A re-employment insurance judge reversed, based on a finding of misconduct. Pontinen appealed, and the commissioner's representative affirmed the finding of misconduct and denial of benefits. Pontinen now appeals the commissioner's representative's decision.
The commissioner's representative found that Joy Pontinen had repeatedly refused to provide business and financial records; eventually dumped records in Lautigar's garage; countermanded and ignored Lautigar's work orders; destroyed a lock box Lautigar had provided for financial records; pulled bakery products off the shelves so they could not be sold; spit in Lautigar's face, swore at him, and threw things at him.
The record supports the commissioner's representative's findings of fact. Lautigar testified to each of the incidents, and Pontinen does not dispute most of them. Pontinen does dispute denying Lautigar access to the business records, but the commissioner's representative found Lautigar's testimony more credible than Pontinen's. When credibility is at issue, "this court must defer to the Commissioner's ability to weigh the evidence." Whitehead v. Moonlight Nursing Care, Inc., 529 N.W.2d 350, 352 (Minn. App. 1995).
Misconduct that disqualifies a discharged employee from receiving re-employment benefits is defined by statute. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6 (1998). Misconduct is intentional conduct that demonstrates disregard for the employer's interests, the employer's reasonable behavior standards, or the employee's duties. Id.
"Generally, if an employer's request is reasonable and does not impose an unreasonable burden on the employee, the employee's refusal to accede to that request constitutes misconduct." Soussi v. Blue & White Serv. Corp., 498 N.W.2d 316, 318 (Minn. App. 1993) (citation omitted); see also McGowan, 420 N.W.2d at 596 (misconduct for employee to refuse to perform reasonable incidental tasks); Bibleau v. Resistance Tech., Inc., 411 N.W.2d 29, 31-32 (Minn. App. 1987) (misconduct for employee to refuse to perform quality checks). Pontinen refused to follow many directives from Lautigar while he was acting as manager of the business. The commissioner's representative concluded that Pontinen deliberately disregarded standards that her employer had a right to expect her to meet, and the findings support that conclusion. Pontinen argues that the orders were not good business decisions. But the fact that Pontinen would have run the business differently does not affect the reasonableness of Lautigar's managerial orders. Pontinen's refusal to follow Lautigar's directives constitutes misconduct within the meaning of the statute.
Pontinen's repeated refusals to provide financial records to Lautigar also constitute misconduct. As an employer and as a co-owner, Pontinen had a duty to provide a fellow owner with access to the records. See Minn. Stat. § 322B.373, subd. 2 (1998). By denying Lautigar access to the records, she showed a disregard of "the employer's interest" as well as her "duties and obligations to the employer." Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6. Thus, these actions, too, are misconduct within the meaning of the statute.
 Because neither party disputes whether Pontinen's termination by court order constitutes discharge by an employer, we do not reach that issue.