This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).






Laura L. Goodman,





City of Brooklyn Center,



Department of Employment and Economic Development,



Filed January 9, 2007


Willis, Judge


Department of Employment and Economic Development

File No. 13410 05


Elizabeth Melton, Foley & Mansfield, P.L.L.P., 250 Marquette Avenue, Suite 1200, Minneapolis, MN  55401 (for relator)


John M. LeFevre Jr., Kennedy and Graven, 470 U.S. Bank Plaza, 200 South Sixth Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (for respondent City of Brooklyn Center)


Linda A. Holmes, Lee B. Nelson, Department of Employment and Economic Development, First National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN  55101-1351 (for respondent Department)


            Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Wright, Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.*

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Relator appeals by writ of certiorari from the decision of the unemployment-law judge that relator quit her employment without good reason caused by her employer and that, consequently, she is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.  We affirm.


            Relator Laura Goodman was hired on September 8, 2003, as the deputy police chief for respondent City of Brooklyn Center.  According to the position description, the deputy police chief “[p]erforms administrative and responsible managerial police work . . . under the general or administrative supervision of the police chief.”  Goodman testified that, among her duties, she was “hired . . . to supervise, oversee, guide, advise, etc. the lieutenants.”

            During Goodman’s March 2005 performance review, the police chief told Goodman that she needed to improve her relationships with staff.  While this was the third conversation between Goodman and the chief on the subject, Goodman told the chief for the first time that she thought that his criticism was motivated by Goodman’s gender.  Goodman testified that later the chief met with Goodman and the city’s human-resources director, and during the meeting the chief told Goodman that they were “no longer in sync” and gave her the choice of resigning or being given a negative performance review and being placed on a work plan.  Goodman testified that before March 2005 she had a good working relationship with the chief.

            On May 23, 2005, Goodman wrote to the city manager, stating that she believed that “the perception that [she is] unfriendly is an issue that would not have arisen if [she were] a man and that the recent negative performance evaluation was precipitated by [her] expressing this concern to the chief.”  Goodman’s letter concluded with an offer to retire if certain of her demands were met.  The city manager replied that he was satisfied that the chief was “proceeding in a fashion designed to have [Goodman’s position] succeed.”

The chief placed Goodman on a 90-day work plan, commencing on May 31, 2005, during which Goodman was to have weekly evaluation meetings with the chief.  The work plan identified five skills for improvement, but Goodman testified that before instituting the work plan, the chief had focused only on staff relationships and had not discussed the other skills with Goodman.  Goodman signed the work plan, although she testified that she “had no choice but to sign the document” or be fired.

Despite the work plan, Goodman continued to have difficulties, which eventually resulted in her resignation.  Goodman testified that the chief would unexpectedly change the agenda at their meetings, which left her unprepared; that the chief increased her job responsibilities; and that the chief, despite an earlier oral agreement to the contrary, refused to give her permission to attend a conference in London, England.  Goodman testified that the “last straw” was the chief’s decision to move her from the administrative division to supervise a five-person detective unit.  Because of this change, the lieutenants, who had been reporting to Goodman, now reported directly to the chief.  Although acknowledging that historically the detectives had been managed by a high-ranking officer, Goodman testified that this change “seal[ed] [her] fate” because she was “taken out of the information flow.”  On August 18, 2005, Goodman resigned from the police department.

Respondent Department of Employment and Economic Development determined that relator was disqualified from receiving benefits.  Goodman appealed, and an unemployment-law judge (ULJ) affirmed, finding that Goodman quit without good reason caused by her employer.  While the ULJ found that Goodman was not discriminated against because of her gender, the ULJ made no findings on Goodman’s retaliation claim.  The ULJ also made no findings on Goodman’s claim that the work plan was designed to force her resignation.  Upon a motion for reconsideration, the ULJ affirmed her earlier decision, and this certiorari appeal follows.


Goodman argues that she had good reason caused by her employer to quit and is, therefore, qualified to receive unemployment benefits.  Upon review of a ULJ’s decision, this court may affirm, remand for further proceedings, reverse, or modify the decision.  Minn. Stat. § 268.105, subd. 7(d) (Supp. 2005).  This court will affirm unless, in relevant part, the findings are unsupported by substantial evidence in view of the entire record or the decision was affected by error of law.  Id. Review of a ULJ’s decision involves mixed questions of law and fact.  See Colburn v. Pine Portage Madden Bros., 346 N.W.2d 159, 161 (Minn. 1984).  Whether an employee had good reason caused by an employer to quit is a question of law, which we review de novo.  Rootes v. Wal-Mart Assocs., Inc., 669 N.W.2d 416, 418 (Minn. App. 2003).  But this court will defer to the ULJ’s findings of fact.  See Skarhus v. Davanni’s Inc., 721 N.W.2d 340, 344 (Minn. App. 2006).

There is no dispute that Goodman quit her employment.  Under Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2004), an employee who voluntarily quits her employment is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits unless the employee had “good reason caused by the employer” to quit.  An employee has a “good reason” if the employer is responsible for an action that (1) is directly related to the employment, (2) is adverse to the employee, and (3) would “compel” an average, reasonable employee “to quit and become unemployed” rather than to continue working.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(a) (Supp. 2005).  But notification of future discharge is not a good reason to quit.  Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(e) (Supp. 2005).

Goodman proffers three bases for concluding that the actions of the city gave her good reason to quit.  First, Goodman argues that the evidence supports a finding that the city retaliated against her because of her complaint of gender discrimination.  An employer that violates the law in its treatment of its employees is “per se guilty of employer misconduct,” and the employee has good reason to quit.  Hawthorne v. Universal Studios, Inc., 432 N.W.2d 759, 762 (Minn. App. 1988) (quotation omitted). Both federal law and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) prohibit retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law.  42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) (2000); Minn. Stat. § 363A.15 (2004); see also Hoover v. Norwest Private Mortgage Banking, 632 N.W.2d 534, 548 (Minn. 2001) (describing the elements of a reprisal claim).  Thus, if the city retaliated against Goodman because of her discrimination complaint, she had good reason to quit.

Goodman cites no authority in support of her retaliation claim, but we nevertheless choose to address it.  To make out a claim under either the federal or the state statute, an employee must establish that there is a causal connection between the employee’s statutorily protected conduct and the employer’s alleged adverse employment action.  Clark v. Johanns, 460 F.3d 1064, 1067 (8th Cir. 2006) (discussing the federal standard); Kuechle v. Life’s Companion P.C.A., Inc., 653 N.W.2d 214, 221 (Minn. App. 2002) (discussing the state standard).  Goodman’s formal complaint by letter to the city is statutorily protected conduct.  See Potter v. Ernst & Young, LLP, 622 N.W.2d 141, 145 (Minn. App. 2001) (noting that filing a formal discrimination claim is protected conduct).

But Goodman has not established an adverse employment action.  In construing the MHRA, Minnesota courts may look to federal caselaw interpreting federal retaliation claims for guidance. Fletcher v. St. Paul Pioneer Press, 589 N.W.2d 96, 101 (Minn. 1999).  Recently, the Supreme Court clarified federal caselaw on what constitutes an adverse employment action for the purpose of a retaliation action, adopting the interpretation of the Seventh and District of Columbia Circuits.  Specifically, the Court held that for challenged conduct to be actionable, the plaintiff must establish that a “reasonable employee would have found the challenged conduct materially adverse.”  See Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 126 S. Ct. 2405, 2415 (2006).  The Supreme Court has instructed courts that the challenged conduct is to be judged objectively in a fact-specific context—noting, for instance, that a mere scheduling change may not support a retaliation complaint by most employees but may support a claim by a working mother.  Id.

Here, Goodman argues that receiving a poor performance review, being placed on a work plan, and being reassigned to the detective division all are adverse employment actions.  But poor performance reviews are not, standing alone, adverse employment actions.  Stutler v. Ill. Dep’t of Corr., 263 F.3d 698, 703 (7th Cir. 2001).  Further, being placed on a work plan was not an adverse employment action because it did not affect Goodman’s pay, benefits, or any other conditions of her employment.  See Stewart v. Evans, 275 F.3d 1126, 1136 (D.C. Cir. 2002) (noting that formal reprimands and criticisms without some other disciplinary action such as a change in grade, salary, or other benefits are not sufficient to establish an adverse employment action).  Finally, a job transfer that “lead[s] to significantly diminished responsibilities and substantially changed working conditions” may be an adverse employment action.  Herron v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 388 F.3d 293, 301 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Sitar v. Ind. Dep’t of Transp., 344 F.3d 720, 727 (7th Cir. 2004)).  But a transfer to an “essentially equivalent job” is not. Place v. Abbott Labs., 215 F.3d 803, 810 (7th Cir. 2000).  Goodman was transferred to an essentially equivalent job, which she admits was historically held by a high-ranking officer, and suffered no loss of grade, title, or any other employment benefits; she was, after all, still the deputy chief and continued to have supervisory responsibilities.  Thus, Goodman did not suffer an adverse employment action and, consequently, cannot establish retaliation by the city.

Second, Goodman argues that the evidence supports a finding that she had good reason to quit because the chief designed the work plan “to force [her] to resign.”  In particular, Goodman argues that she was “given so many additional tasks that [she was] bound to fail”; that during evaluation meetings, she was “hit with an interrogation about a completely different subject” from the subject that she expected to discuss; and that she worked hard to complete the work plan but was “never given direction or assistance.”  Again, Goodman cites no authority in support of her argument, but we will address it.  An employer’s unreasonable demands may be a good reason to quit. Zepp v. Arthur Treacher Fish & Chips, Inc., 272 N.W.2d 262, 263 (Minn. 1978); see also Porrazzo v. Nabisco, Inc., 360 N.W.2d 662, 663-64 (Minn. App. 1985) (holding that a substantial increase in an employee’s work hours without extra pay is a good reason to quit).  Good reason to quit does not extend to irreconcilable personality conflicts, to an employee’s general dissatisfaction, or to frustration with the employment.  Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986).  The ultimate question is whether the employer’s demands were excessive or unreasonable.  Shanahan v. Dist. Mem’l Hosp., 495 N.W.2d 894, 897 (Minn. App. 1993).

Although the ULJ recited Goodman’s argument that the work plan “made it nearly impossible for her to succeed,” the ULJ made no findings on this issue.  But Goodman quit before completing the work plan; and as the ULJ noted, even if Goodman had been on the verge of failing the plan and losing her position, “anticipation of a discharge” is not a good reason to quit.  See Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(e) (Supp. 2005) (providing that notification of future discharge is not a good reason to quit).

Finally, Goodman argues that the “conditions of her employment were changed significantly and drastically,” giving her good reason to quit.  An employee may have good reason to quit when she is placed in a position that “requires substantially less skill than [the employee] possesses.”  Marty v. Digital Equip. Corp., 345 N.W.2d 773, 775 (Minn. 1984).  Goodman relies on Marty, in which the supreme court determined that the relator had good cause to quit when she was reassigned from a personal-assistant position to a clerical sales position with the same pay but a lower pay range.  345 N.W.2d at 774-75. Because of the company’s policy, the relator in Marty was also effectively barred from promotion in her new role.  Id. at 775.  Goodman also relies on this court’s decision in Holbrook v. Minnesota Museum of Art, in which we determined that the relator had good cause to quit when, because of funding cuts, the relator’s primarily research-based position was eliminated, and she was offered two part-time clerical positions.  405 N.W.2d 537, 538-39 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. July 15, 1987).

            But Goodman has offered no evidence that her full-time, managerial position was substantively changed to the same extent as was the relator’s job in Holbrook.  Further, unlike the relator in Marty,Goodman has not established that her opportunities for further advancement were limited.  Thus, whatever discontent the reorganization caused Goodman, it was not a good reason to quit caused by the city.


* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.