Eyre v. Saginaw Correctional Facility – 13.29

Eyre v. Saginaw Correctional Facility
Digest No. 13.29

Section 421.29(1)(e)

Cite as: Eyre v. Saginaw Correctional Facility, 274 Mich. App. 382 (2007)

Appeal pending: No
Court: Michigan Court of Appeals
Date of decision: February 27, 2007

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HOLDING: “The employer initially bears the burden of establishing that a suitable offer of work had been made, but, once the employer has met this burden, it shifts to the claimant to establish that there was good cause for refusal.”

FACTS: Claimant was laid off by her employer, Saginaw Correctional Facility. Later, Standish Maximum Correctional Facility offered her a similar position. She did not accept this offer, however, due to health concerns and the longer commuting distance. The Department of Labor initially approved her benefits, concluding that her refusal of the offer had good cause. After the employer’s objection, the Department of Labor reversed its conclusion, finding that she had turned down suitable employment without good cause. The hearing referee, the review board, and the circuit court each upheld this determination. Claimant then appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals  of Michigan.

DECISION: The Circuit Court decision is reversed and the case is remanded to the hearing referee for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

RATIONALE: The provision that establishes the disqualification for refusing a suitable offer of employment without good cause, MCL 421.29(1)(e), does not establish which party should bear the burden of proof in a dispute under that rule. The court also hadn’t established binding precedent on the matter. In prior cases, however, the court dealt with the issue of disqualification more generally. Lasher v. Mueller Brass Co. held that the burden of proving disqualification fell on the employer, while Tomei v. General Motors Corp. held that this burden doesn’t always fall on the employer. The guiding principle in these cases on who should have the burden of proof is “which party is better able to provide the information needed to answer the relevant inquiries”.

The court drew from its reasoning in Tomei, which involved a plant closure and an offer to continue working at a different facility. Tomei held that the initial burden should fall on the employer to demonstrate that it had communicated a viable offer of reasonable employment, but that if an employer met this burden, it switched to the claimant to show that the decision to leave work was not voluntary. Likewise, in the present case, the court found that the initial burden should rest on the employer to show that a suitable offer of employment had been made. As above, if the employer carries this burden, the claimant must then show that her refusal was supported by good cause. The court reasoned that the employer is in better position to determine whether the employee can discharge the responsibilities of the new position, whereas the claimant will inevitably have a better understanding of personal circumstances that would provide a good cause reason to turn down an offer.

Digest author: James Fahringer, Michigan Law, Class of 2018
Digest updated: 3/27/2016