Katherine M. Thomas, Relator, vs. St. Paul Harley-Davidson Inc., Respondent, Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent.
This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
St. Paul Harley-Davidson Inc.,
Commissioner of Employment and Economic Development,
Filed September 23, 2003
Robert H. Schumacher, Judge
Daniel Oberdorfer, Elizabeth A. Papacek, Leonard, Street and Deinard, P.A., 150 South Fifth Street, Suite 2300, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent St. Paul Harley-Davidson)
Lee B. Nelson, Philip B. Byrne, Department of Employment and Economic Development, 390 North Robert Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Commissioner)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Schumacher, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
ROBERT H. SCHUMACHER, Judge
Relator Katherine M. Thomas challenges the decision by the commissioner's representative that she was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because she did not have good reason caused by her employer, respondent St. Paul Harley-Davidson Inc., to quit her job. We affirm.FACTS
Shortly after Thomas began employment with St. Paul Harley-Davidson, a co-worker persistently asked her for dates, which she always refused. After Thomas complained to St. Paul Harley-Davidson, the co-worker was given a written warning, told to maintain only professional contact with Thomas, and ordered to apologize.
Despite the steps St. Paul Harley-Davidson took, the harassment resumed. Although St. Paul Harley-Davidson repeatedly asked Thomas whether the problems continued, she did not report the continued harassment. When St. Paul Harley-Davidson ultimately learned of it, the harasser's employment was terminated.
Thomas later resigned without notice, stating that she had not felt comfortable working for St. Paul Harley-Davidson since the incident with the co-worker had occurred. She applied for unemployment benefits. The department determined that she was disqualified from receiving benefits. She appealed to the unemployment law judge who, after a hearing, determined that she had good reason to quit and awarded her benefits. St. Paul Harley-Davidson appealed this decision, and the commissioner's representative determined that Thomas did not have good reason to quit and disqualified her from receipt of benefits.D E C I S I O N
An appellate court reviews the decision by the commissioner's representative rather than the decision by the unemployment law judge. Tuff v. Knitcraft Corp., 526 N.W.2d 50, 51 (Minn. 1995). This court will review the findings by the commissioner's representative "in the light most favorable to the decision, and if there is evidence reasonably tending to sustain them, they will not be disturbed." White v. Metro. Med. Ctr., 332 N.W.2d 25, 26 (Minn. 1983). "The issue of whether an employee has good reason to quit is a question of law reviewed de novo." Peppi v. Phyllis Wheatley Cmty. Ctr., 614 N.W.2d 750, 752 (Minn. App. 2000).
An employee who quits employment is disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits unless "the applicant quit the employment because of a good reason caused by the employer." Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(1) (2002).
Thomas first contends she had good reason to quit because the company did not handle her sexual harassment claim properly. An employee has good reason to quit based on "sexual harassment of which the employer was aware, or should have been aware, and the employer failed to take timely and appropriate action." Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3(e) (2002). When an employee complains of sexual harassment, the employer has an affirmative duty to investigate and take appropriate steps against the harasser. Peppi, 614 N.W.2d at 752. The employee has the burden of showing that she gave the employer notice and that the employer failed to take timely and appropriate action. Biegner v. Bloomington Chrysler/Plymouth, Inc., 426 N.W.2d 483, 486 (Minn. App. 1988). If the employer provides the employee with "a reasonable expectation of assistance," the employee then has the burden to give the employer notice of any continuing harassment. Id. Otherwise, the employer may reasonably assume the problem has been corrected. Id.
St. Paul Harley-Davidson addressed the sexual harassment claim appropriately. It investigated upon complaint, took disciplinary action against the co-worker, repeatedly asked Thomas if there were continuing problems, and upon learning of the continuing problem from another employee, investigated again, and then dismissed the offending co-worker. While St. Paul Harley-Davidson may not have handled the matter entirely to Thomas's satisfaction, it complied with the law. See Peppi, 614 N.W.2d at 752.
Next, Thomas sets forth a number of ways in which she asserts management did not treat her fairly, giving her good reason to quit. "A good reason caused by the employer for quitting 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 and become unemployed rather than remaining in the employment." Id., subd. 3(a) (2002). Further, if an employee is subjected to adverse working conditions, the employee must complain to the employer and give it the opportunity to correct them before they will constitute good reason to quit. Id., subd. 3(b) (2002).
The commissioner's representative determined that although Thomas felt she was ignored by St. Paul Harley-Davidson, retaliated against, and not treated the same after the harasser was fired, she did not express these concerns to St. Paul Harley-Davidson or give it the opportunity to correct the situation. Further, when St. Paul Harley-Davidson learned some months later that she was bored and unhappy with her receptionist job, it reassigned her to a new position involving vehicle titles. These findings are supported by the evidence and the representative did not err in determining Thomas did not have good reason to quit.
Finally, Thomas contends that in her new position working with vehicle titles, she overheard management in open-door meetings discussing other employees negatively. Again, she did not complain about this to St. Paul Harley-Davidson. Further, good cause does not include situations in which "an employee experiences irreconcilable differences with others at work or where the employee is simply frustrated or dissatisfied with his working conditions." Portz v. Pipestone Skelgas, 397 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1986) (addressing earlier version of statute).
The commissioner's representative properly determined that Thomas did not have good reason caused by St. Paul Harley-Davidson for quitting and was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.