Bahm v. Target Store 631 – 10.99

Bahm v. Target Store 631
Digest no. 10.99

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Bahm v. Target Store 631, unpublished opinion of the County of Bay Circuit Court, issued September 21, 1995 (Docket No. 93-3593-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Patricia Bahm
Employer: Target Store 631
Docket no.: 93-3593-AE
Date of decision: September 21, 1995

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HOLDING: Under Section 29(1)(a), although relevant to the issue of “good cause,” a claimant’s failure to resort to a workplace grievance procedure, or failure to allow such a procedure to run its course before leaving employment, is not dispositive evidence that she lacked “good cause” to leave her employment.

FACTS:  Claimant was sexually harassed by her supervisor for an extended period of time. Upon reporting her supervisor, Employer launched an informal investigation process. Claimant was told to not “return to work unless and until instructed to do so.” Claimant was later asked to return to her job, but learned that Employer had only suspended the supervisor for one week at that time as a temporary measure. Claimant left her employment due to her fear that the supervisor would thereafter return to work, but the supervisor was fired two days later.

Claimant applied for unemployment benefits, which UIA denied. On appeal, the ALJ found the Claimant to be disqualified from benefits on the grounds that she voluntarily quit her job. Specifically, the ALJ stated that the Claimant was “premature in leaving her work,” since Employer eventually fired the supervisor after concluding its investigation. Claimant requested a rehearing but was denied. Claimant filed an appeal to the Circuit Court.

DECISION: The ALJ’s decision is reversed as a matter of law, and the Claimant is entitled to benefits.

RATIONALE: Section 29(1)(a) provides that a claimant may voluntarily leave her employment when there is good cause attributable to the employer. Contrary to the ALJ’s assertion that the Claimant prematurely left her job, Section 29(1)(a) does not require a claimant to “seek either judicial or administrative relief” before voluntarily leaving her job for good cause. While the failure to seek some type of relief before quitting the job is relevant evidence on whether there is good cause, the fact that a claimant failed to pursue such remedies does not, by itself, disqualify the claimant from receiving unemployment benefits.

Here, the undisputed facts clearly indicate that the Claimant did not quit her job “prematurely.” First, when Claimant returned to work and asked about the supervisor, the Employer only told her that the supervisor was terminated for one week. The Employer failed to communicate to the Claimant that there was still an ongoing investigation.

Second, the Employer told the Claimant during the early stages of its investigation to not “return to work unless and until instructed to do so.” When she returned, the Claimant learned that the supervisor was only given a one-week suspension without being notified of the ongoing investigation. Given the circumstances, it was reasonable for the Claimant to believe that the one-week suspension was the entirety of the punishment.

Third, there is no basis for the ALJ’s determination that the Claimant prematurely quit her job when she failed to ascertain “with certainty the status of the [supervisor].” Not only did Claimant in fact ask the Employer about the status of the supervisor, but there is simply no legal authority for the proposition that the Claimant here has a duty to ascertain “with certainty” the status of the supervisor.

Fourth, the standard set forth in Tomei v. General Motors Corporation, 194 Mich 180 (1992), when applied to this case, provides that the Employer has the duty to clearly communicate the status of the investigation to the Claimant so that she can make informed choices regarding whether to continue her employment with the Employer.

Finally, there is no evidence here that the supervisor’s termination was inevitable, and that the Claimant should have simply waited a few days for the matter to be resolved.

Digest Author: Chris Kang
Digest Student-Editor: Nick Phillips
Digest Updated: 8/14