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Christenson v. Episcopal Church Home

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Aug 19, 1997
No. C3-97-339 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 19, 1997)


No. C3-97-339.

Filed August 19, 1997.

Appeal from the Department of Economic Security, File No. 8210UC96.

Peter B. Knapp, Mark Holthusen, Certified Student Attorney, (for Relator).

Kent E. Todd, (for Respondent Commissioner of Economic Security).

Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Randall, Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.

This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).


Relator Lee Etta E. Christenson challenges her disqualification from reemployment insurance benefits, claiming the representative of the Commissioner erroneously determined that she quit her job voluntarily without good cause attributable to her employer, respondent Episcopal Church Home of Minnesota. We affirm.


Under Minnesota law, an employee is disqualified from benefits where the employee "voluntarily and without good cause attributable to the employer discontinued employment." Minn. Stat. § 268.09, subd. 1(a) (1996). The purpose of the statute is to "deny benefits to anyone whose termination was volitional and not a result of circumstances beyond his control." Jansen v. Peoples Elec. Co. , 317 N.W.2d 879, 880 (Minn. 1982) (citation omitted). The burden of proving that an employee voluntarily quit falls on the employer. Marz v. Department of Employment Servs. , 256 N.W.2d 287, 289 (Minn. 1977). Once this is proven, the burden shifts to the employee to show good cause attributable to the employer for leaving the employment. Id.

Whether an employee had good cause to quit is a question of law. Zepp v. Arthur Treacher Fish Chips, Inc. , 272 N.W.2d 262, 263 (Minn. 1978). On questions of law, "this court is free to exercise its independent judgment." Smith v. Employers' Overload Co. , 314 N.W.2d 220, 221 (Minn. 1981). However, this court must defer to the factual findings of the representative of the Commissioner:

Findings must be viewed in the light most favorable to the decision, and if there is evidence reasonably tending to sustain them, they will not be disturbed.

Bestler v. Travel Co. of Minnesota , 398 N.W.2d 611, 613 (Minn.App. 1986) (citation omitted).

Christenson argues she quit with good cause attributable to her employer because: (1) she was subjected to racial and physical abuse by the residents at the two-west station; and (2) her transfer to the two-west station constituted a substantial interference with the terms and conditions of her employment.

1. Racial and physical abuse

Employees who have been subjected to harassment on the job may establish good cause by demonstrating that they gave their employer notice of the harassment and an opportunity to correct the problem. Larson v. Department of Economic Sec. , 281 N.W.2d 667, 669 (Minn. 1979). Generally, however, if an employee quits without giving the employer an opportunity to resolve the issue, the employee may be found to have quit without "good cause." See Prescott v. Moorhead State Univ. , 457 N.W.2d 270, 272 (Minn.App. 1990) (holding professor terminated employment without good cause attributable to employer because he failed to take appropriate steps to seek redress from employer).

Christenson argues respondent had notice of the harassment by the residents, but did not take appropriate measures. She claims she had given respondent notice of the physical and verbal abuse in four ways: (1) documenting the abuse in the patients' charts; (2) reporting to her former supervisor; (3) transferring to the two-east station; and (4) complaining to the administrator at the August 7, 1996, meeting. The Commissioner's representative, however, found Christenson did not adequately inform her employer of her dissatisfaction with being transferred back to the two-west station.

The record sustains the representative's finding. Because Christenson noted her complaints on the patients' charts a year before the new director of nursing made the decision to transfer Christenson back to the two-west station, it is unreasonable to expect the director to have reviewed year-old charts before making the transfer decision. Moreover, while Christenson testified she complained of the racial problems to her former supervisor, that supervisor left employment with respondent in July 1995. Finally, although Christenson testified that she applied for a transfer to the two-east station because of harassment by residents, there was no evidence indicating this reason was communicated to respondent or that it granted the transfer for that reason.

The representative credited the director's testimony by finding that on August 2, 1996, Christenson did not inform the director concerning the problems she had on the two-west station. Resolution of conflicting testimony lies with the representative and this court will not question the representative's determination of credibility. Nelson v. Bemidji Regional Interdistrict Council , 359 N.W.2d 38, 41 (Minn.App. 1984). The representative further found: (1) the director learned of the racial problems on August 9, 1996, when Christenson told her she was quitting because of the abuse she was subjected to at the two-west station; and (2) the home administrator, the director of human rights, and the affirmative action officer first learned of the alleged racial incidents at the staff meeting on August 7, 1996. The record supports these findings.

Before an employee can be considered to have quit with good cause attributable to the employer, the employee must give the employer an opportunity to correct the condition. See Larson, 281 N.W.2d at 669 (stating that an employee must fully apprise an employer of adverse conditions). There is evidence to support the representative's finding that Christenson quit without giving her employer an opportunity to solve the problems. Christenson's employer learned of the racial problems on August 7, 1996, and two days later, Christenson orally informed the director of nursing she was quitting. On August 14, 1996, Christenson submitted a resignation letter. Christenson did not give respondent a reasonable opportunity to resolve the problems, particularly in light of the promises made by the administrator at the August 7 meeting that he would look into the matter and that any racist incidents should be reported to him. Under these facts, the representative did not err in concluding that Christenson quit without good cause attributable to her employer.

2. Job transfer

Under Minnesota law, a substantial change in job duties may constitute good cause attributable to the employer for terminating employment. See Zepp , 272 N.W.2d at 263 (holding the substantial increase in the number of establishments claimant serviced and work hours constituted good cause attributable to the employer for quitting his job); Nelson, 359 N.W.2d at 40-41 (holding an increase in responsibilities and work hours without commensurate increase in salary constitutes good cause attributable to the employer for terminating her employment). However, a transfer to a substantially equivalent position does not constitute good cause to quit. See Bestler , 398 N.W.2d at 614 (holding claimant lacked good cause to quit after being transferred to another department because there was no appreciable difference between the claimant's new position and the claimant's old position).

Christenson argues her transfer back to the two-west station constitutes a substantial change in her "work responsibilities." We disagree. Providing care and medication to the residents were Christenson's work responsibilities, whether she was assigned to the two-east station or the two-west station. Moreover, Christenson had previously worked at the two-west station and had not been promised a particular position when she was hired. Therefore, we conclude respondent did not interfere with the terms and conditions of Christenson's employment contract. See id. (holding employer did not breach the employment contract by transferring claimant because when claimant was hired, employer did not represent that claimant would only work in one department).


Summaries of

Christenson v. Episcopal Church Home

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Aug 19, 1997
No. C3-97-339 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 19, 1997)
Case details for

Christenson v. Episcopal Church Home

Case Details


Court:Minnesota Court of Appeals

Date published: Aug 19, 1997


No. C3-97-339 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 19, 1997)