Tracy Newman, Relator, vs. Children's Health Care, Respondent, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent.
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This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. Â§ 480A.08, subd. 3 (2012).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Children's Health Care,
Department of Employment
and Economic Development,
Filed August 19, 2013
Department of Employment
and Economic Development
File No. 30071014-3
Tracy Newman, Vadnais Heights, Minnesota (pro se relator)
Childrenâs Health Care, Minneapolis, Minnesota (respondent employer)
Lee B. Nelson, Colleen Timmer, Department of Employment and Economic
Development, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent department)
Considered and decided by Hudson, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and
In this certiorari appeal from a decision by an unemployment-law judge (ULJ) that
relator is ineligible for unemployment benefits because she was discharged for
employment misconduct for forging her supervisorâs name, relator challenges the finding
that she did so. Because we defer to the ULJâs credibility determinations, we affirm.
Relator Tracy Newman was employed as a part-time health unit coordinator by
respondent Childrenâs Health Care (CHC). Her duties included data entry, working with
patientsâ families, routing doctorâs orders to the appropriate departments, and other
In December 2011, relator was asked by Ramsey County Community Human
Services (county) to complete a form in order to reapply for public health benefits for her
minor children. The form required relator to complete the top portion and for relatorâs
employer to complete the bottom portion. Relator completed the form and faxed it to the
county on December 21, 2011.
On July 16, 2012, relatorâs supervisor, Karen Martin, received a call from the
county asking for additional information regarding the form that relator submitted.
Martin asked the county to fax a copy of the form to her. Upon receiving the fax, Martin
noticed that the document had her signature on it, but that she did not recognize it as her
signature and did not believe she had ever seen the form before. That same day, Martin
confronted relator about the form. Relator denied forging Martinâs signature on the form
and stated that she believed someone at the county must have signed her name. Relator
requested, and was provided with, a copy of the form that was faxed to Martin by the
Subsequently, both relator and Martin contacted the county to figure out what had
happened. According to Martin, a representative from the county stated that it is not their
policy to sign someone elseâs name on a form. But, according to relator, she was told
that the county sometimes contacts the employer by phone and would indicate that on the
form. Relator stated that she believes someone at the county signed Martinâs name but
did not indicate that they had spoken to her by phone.
Martin attempted to contact relator twice to request that relator meet with her on
July 20 to discuss the incident, which was the next time relator was scheduled for work.
Relator refused to meet with Martin and called in sick to work that day. Martin again
attempted to contact relator to tell her that she should not come to work until after they
discussed the incident and that she wanted to meet with relator on July 23. On the
evening of July 22, relator left a voicemail for Martin stating that an attorney had
instructed her not to meet with Martin face-to-face until she obtained more information,
and that relator felt âvery threatenedâ by Martin. On July 24, Martin notified relator that
she was terminated from employment.
Subsequently, relator sought unemployment insurance benefits but was denied.
Relator appealed the ineligibility determination, and a hearing was held before a ULJ by
telephone. Relator appeared pro se, and respondent CHC was represented by Martin. At
the hearing, relator reiterated her position that she never forged Martinâs signature on the
insurance document and that someone from the county must have signed Martinâs name.
Following the hearing, the ULJ issued a decision finding that relator forged her
employerâs signature and affirming the determination of ineligibility.
concluded that relatorâs forgery was a serious violation of her employerâs expectations,
and therefore she had committed employment misconduct.
reconsideration, and the ULJ affirmed the decision. This certiorari appeal followed.
On a certiorari appeal, this court may reverse or modify a decision of a ULJ âif the
substantial rights of the petitioner may have been prejudiced because the findings,
inferences, conclusions, or decision are . . . unsupported by substantial evidence in view
of the entire record.â Minn. Stat. Â§ 268.105, subd. 7(d)(5) (2012).
An applicant is ineligible for unemployment benefits if the applicant was
discharged for âemployment misconduct,â which is defined as âany intentional,
negligent, or indifferent conduct, on the job or off the job that displays clearly: (1) a
serious violation of the standards of behavior the employer has the right to reasonably
expect of the employee; or (2) a substantial lack of concern for the employment.â Minn.
Stat. Â§ 268.095, subd. 4(a), 6(a) (2012).
Relator does not dispute that forging an
employerâs signature on a document amounts to employment misconduct justifying an
applicantâs ineligibility for unemployment benefits.
âWhether an employee committed employment misconduct is a mixed question of
fact and law.â Peterson v. Nw. Airlines Inc., 753 N.W.2d 771, 774 (Minn. App. 2008),
review denied (Minn. Oct. 1, 2008). Whether an act was committed is a question of fact;
but, whether the act constitutes employment misconduct is a question of law, which this
court reviews de novo. Id. On appeal, this court reviews the ULJâs fact findings in the
light most favorable to the decision, giving deference to the ULJâs credibility
determinations. Id. â[T]his court will not disturb the ULJâs factual findings when the
evidence substantially sustains them.â Id.
Relator asserts that it was error to find that she forged her supervisorâs signature,
arguing that she lacked any motive to do so because it would have threatened her
employment with CHC and her supervisor would have willingly signed the document had
she asked. âCredibility determinations are the exclusive province of the ULJ and will not
be disturbed on appeal.â Skarhus v. Davanniâs Inc., 721 N.W.2d 340, 345 (Minn. App.
2006). âWhen the credibility of an involved party or witness testifying in an evidentiary
hearing has a significant effect on the outcome of a decision, the [ULJ] must set out the
reason for crediting or discrediting that testimony.â Minn. Stat. Â§ 268.105, subd. 1(c)
In the decision affirming relatorâs ineligibility determination, the ULJ stated that
relatorâs testimony was not credible because it was self-serving, because it was highly
unlikely that anyone else would have signed Martinâs name, because relator supposedly
had documentary proof in support of her position but never presented it to CHC, and
because she refused to meet with Martin after she was confronted with the forgery
allegation. In Ywswf v. Teleplan Wireless Servs., Inc., 726 N.W.2d 525, 532â33 (Minn.
App. 2007), this court listed several factors that are relevant to determining the credibility
of a witness, including whether a witness will gain or lose if the case is decided a certain
way, and whether the testimony is reasonable compared with other evidence. The ULJâs
decision reflects that he relied on these relevant factors in making his credibility
The evidence shows that relator was confronted by her supervisor
immediately upon the discovery of the alleged forgery.
Relator denied forging the
document, and asserted that she had a copy of the original document she faxed to the
county but never showed the document to CHC. Relator also asserted that she did not
have enough time to respond to the forgery allegation. But, relator was accused of
forgery on July 16, and was not discharged until July 24, and she refused two
opportunities to explain her actions to her supervisor.
In addition, Martin testified that the signature on the document could not have
been hers because the phone and fax numbers provided on the document are not correct
and that when she signs a document she always writes the correct numbers for her
personal phone and fax machine.
The ULJ found Martinâs testimony credible.
Moreover, Denise Fitzgerald, an employee with CHCâs human resources department,
testified that it is company policy to have staff in CHCâs employer service center
complete this form for their employees, and that they frequently sign this form but never
sign anyone elseâs name to the documents, nor do they have employees print the forms
and fax them themselves as relator did. Although the record does contain a copy of what
appears to be the unsigned version of the document that relator asserts she submitted to
the county, there is substantial evidence and testimony in the record to support the ULJâs
finding that the true document is the one submitted by CHC showing the forged