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PAHL-JONES v. ASI SIGN SYSTEMS

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Jan 2, 2002
No. C2-01-1245 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 2, 2002)

Opinion

No. C2-01-1245

Filed January 2, 2002

Appeal from Commissioner of Economic Security.

Denise Pahl-Jones, (pro se relator)

Wendy Pajor, ASI Sign Systems, (respondent-employer)

Philip B. Byrne, Department of Economic Security, (for respondent Commissioner of Economic Security)

Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.


This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).


UNPUBLISHED OPINION


Relator Denise Pahl-Jones challenges the decision of the commissioner's representative that she was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because she quit her employment with ASI Sign Systems without a good reason attributable to her employer. Because we conclude that ASI, after notice from Pahl-Jones, failed to correct adverse working conditions, we reverse.

FACTS

Pahl-Jones worked for ASI Sign Systems as a painter from May 20, 1999 to February 15, 2001. Pahl-Jones testified that she quit her job without notice to her employer because exposure to Matthews polyurethane paint caused her to have chest pain and headaches and because she was not permitted to use safety equipment that ASI had purchased specifically to address her health complaints.

Pahl-Jones complained about her health problems to co-workers; her supervisor, Julie Puckett, and ASI's owner, Steven Pajor. Pahl-Jones's daughter testified that she observed that the mask Pahl-Jones used at work allowed paint to get onto her face and corroborated that Pahl-Jones complained of headaches and chest pain when she used Matthews polyurethane paint.

Although ASI wanted Pahl-Jones to see a doctor, ASI never scheduled a doctor's appointment. Pahl-Jones testified that she could not afford to go to the doctor and that it was her understanding that ASI was going to "take care of" the appointment.

After Pahl-Jones researched available safety equipment, she asked ASI to purchase a helmet, ventilation mask, respiratory monitor, vortex cooler, and paint booth for her to use when working with Matthews polyurethane paint. ASI purchased that equipment in the spring of 2000 for approximately $2,000. Pahl-Jones testified that she had the equipment "installed and up and ready to go" but was not allowed to use the equipment despite increased use of Matthews polyurethane paint.

There is no evidence that any of this equipment is required for use of the paint involved here or that ASI was not in compliance with health/safety requirements for its business.

Pahl-Jones testified that Puckett told her that ASI would get into trouble with the health department if the company allowed Pahl-Jones to use the equipment before taking a safety class. Puckett, however, never identified or specified what class Pahl-Jones needed to take before being allowed to use the equipment. Pahl-Jones testified that representatives from OSHA and 3M, the manufacturer of the equipment, told her that there is no required safety course.

Although Pahl-Jones could not recall talking to ASI's owner or vice president about the problem, she testified that "everyone" knew she was not using the equipment. The vice president of ASI, Wendy Pajor, was the only witness for ASI. Pajor testified that she was not aware of Pahl-Jones's complaints of headaches and chest pains, but Pajor knew that ASI had authorized the purchase of additional safety equipment for Pahl-Jones to use when working with Matthews polyurethane paint. Pajor was not aware that Puckett had conditioned use of the equipment on taking a class nor was Pajor aware of any class required before using the equipment.

On February 14, 2001, Pahl-Jones told Puckett she could no longer tolerate the working conditions and would be unable to "endure another summer with those temperatures." Pahl-Jones also told Puckett that she was looking for another job. On February 15, 2001, after working all day with Matthew polyurethane paint, Pahl-Jones made a spontaneous decision to quit her job. She left her pass key and a note to Puckett that implied she would not be returning to work and did not return to work. Pahl-Jones testified that she would have continued to work at ASI if she had been allowed to use the safety equipment.

DECISION

On appeal, a reviewing court must examine the decision of the commissioner's representative rather than the decision of the unemployment law judge. Kalberg v. Park Recreation Bd., 563 N.W.2d 275, 276 (Minn. App. 1997). This court should

[r]eview the factual findings of the commissioner's representative in the light most favorable to the decision and determine whether there is evidence in the record that reasonably tends to sustain those findings.

Lolling v. Midwest Patrol, 545 N.W.2d 372, 377 (Minn. 1996) (citation omitted).

An applicant who quits is not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if

[t]he applicant quit the employment because the applicant's serious illness or injury made it medically necessary that the applicant quit, provided that the applicant made reasonable efforts to remain in that employment in spite of the serious illness or injury.

Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 1(7) (2000).

The commissioner's representative, noting that Pahl-Jones had not seen a doctor, was "not convinced that [Pahl-Jones] quit her job because of a serious illness after making reasonable efforts to retain her employment." The record does not contain any evidence that Pahl-Jones's alleged health problems made it "medically necessary" for her to quit and therefore supports the commissioner's representative's determination that Pahl-Jones cannot rely on this provision to claim benefits.

An employee is also not disqualified from receiving benefits if an employee quits with good reason caused by the employer. Id., subd. 1(1) (2000).

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.

(b) If an applicant was subjected to adverse working conditions by the employer, the applicant must complain to the employer and give the employer a reasonable opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions before that may be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting.

Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 3 (2000).

The determination that an employee quit without good reason caused by the employer is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Kehoe v. State, Dep't of Econ. Sec., 568 N.W.2d 889, 890 (Minn. App. 1997).

In order to be eligible for unemployment benefits, an employee who claims to have quit due to adverse working conditions must have reported complaints about those working conditions to the employer. See Larson v. State, Dep't of Econ. Sec., 281 N.W.2d 667, 669 (Minn. 1979) (holding that employee who quit because he claimed he was being harassed by a co-worker "had a duty to inform the employer of those allegations to allow the employer the opportunity to correct the situation").

Here, although ASI agreed to purchase special equipment based on complaints from Pahl-Jones about adverse working conditions, which ASI apparently found significant enough to justify a $2,000 expenditure, ASI prevented Pahl- Jones from using the equipment. Pahl-Jones's repeated questioning of Puckett about how she could qualify to use the equipment gave ASI an adequate opportunity to correct the adverse working conditions that led to purchase of the equipment. ASI nonetheless failed to correct the problem for more than nine months after the equipment was purchased even though ASI was aware that Pahl-Jones's job duties required her to use Matthews polyurethane paint.

The commissioner's representative noted that:

The vice president testified that she was surprised that [Pahl-Jones] had been told that she could not [use] the equipment because she needed to take a course first. The applicant had not discussed this matter with the vice president during her employment. Under the circumstances, we are not convinced that the average reasonable employee would have quit without bringing her concerns to the employer and allowing the employer a reasonable opportunity to address them.

According to Pahl-Jones, however, ASI employees were instructed by Puckett "not to speak to the vice president." Pahl- Jones claims that employees "were told to only go through [Puckett]. She said this was [the vice president's] decision."

This court addressed a similar issue in Haskins v. Choice Auto Rental, Inc., 558 N.W.2d 507 (Minn. App. 1997). The commissioner's representative found that although Haskins had discussed safety concerns with the office manager, he did not complain to the company's owners. Id. at 511. The court determined that "[t]he office manager was apparently, by definition, a `manager,' to whom Haskins could justifiably complain." Id. The court concluded that the record did not contain any evidence indicating that the employee had a duty to complain to the owners. Id.

As in Haskins, the record in this case lacks any evidence that Puckett was not the appropriate person to whom Pahl-Jones should address her concerns. ASI's purchase of the equipment indicated that it was aware that the working conditions as to Pahl-Jones's use of Matthews polyurethane paint were, in fact, adverse. We hold that Pahl-Jones's complaints and questions to her supervisor about her inability to use the safety equipment were addressed to "management" and gave ASI ample opportunity to correct the adverse conditions of Pahl-Jones's employment. ASI's failure to allow Pahl-Jones to use the safety equipment constituted a good reason caused by ASI for Pahl-Jones to terminate her employment.

Reversed.


Summaries of

PAHL-JONES v. ASI SIGN SYSTEMS

Minnesota Court of Appeals
Jan 2, 2002
No. C2-01-1245 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 2, 2002)
Case details for

PAHL-JONES v. ASI SIGN SYSTEMS

Case Details

Full title:DENISE R. PAHL-JONES, RELATOR, v. ASI SIGN SYSTEMS, RESPONDENT…

Court:Minnesota Court of Appeals

Date published: Jan 2, 2002

Citations

No. C2-01-1245 (Minn. Ct. App. Jan. 2, 2002)