Harris v Suburban Employees Services – 10.118

Harris v Suburban Employees Services
Digest no. 10.118

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Harris v Suburban Employee Services, Unpublished Opinion of the Wayne County Circuit Court, Issued March 14, 2011 (Docket No. 10-008620-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Shannon S. Harris
Employer: Suburban Employees Services, LLC
Docket no.: 10-008620-AE
Date of decision: March 14, 2011

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HOLDING: Claimant left employment voluntarily with good cause attributable to his employer, and is therefore not disqualified from benefits.

FACTS: Claimant worked as a porter at a car dealership for Employer from 2003 to 2009. During that time period, he was repeatedly harassed based on his race, weight, and sexual orientation. Despite multiple instances of harassment that Claimant cited, his request for unemployment benefits was denied. Upon review, the ALJ found Claimant to be more credible and that Claimant was not disqualified from benefits. However, Employer appealed, and the Board of Review found that claimant was disqualified from benefits. Claimant appealed regarding the issue of whether Claimant left work voluntarily with good cause attributable to his employer.

DECISION: The Circuit Court reversed the Board of Review, finding Claimant not disqualified from benefits as he voluntarily left work with good cause attributable to his employer.

RATIONALE: “The evidence in this case supports a finding that the employer’s actions in this case would cause a reasonable, average, or otherwise qualified worker to give up his employment just as the ALJ found.” The Board of Review’s decision is not supported by competent, material and substantial evidence on the record.

For example, the Board of Review ruled that Claimant was not discriminated against because other African-American porters had been promoted, but it did not provide proof that this was true. The Board of Review also ignored the harassment that Claimant experienced regarding his race and sexual orientation. Further, the Board of Review improperly ignored the ALJ’s credibility determinations, relying instead on the fact that Claimant had not listed discrimination as the reason he left the company, but the ALJ had determined that this was because Claimant wanted to be able to get good references. Finally, the Board of Review placed too much weight on the amount of time that had passed between the incidents and when the Claimant left his employment, while the Circuit Court found that these incidents had continued until the end of Claimant’s employment.

Digest Author: Nick Phillips
Digest Editor: Jack Battaglia
Digest Updated: 8/14

Martinez v Old West Properties LLC – 10.113

Martinez v Old West Properties LLC
Digest no. 10.113

Section 29(1)(a), Section 29(6)

Cite as: Martinez v Old West Properties LLC, Unpublished Opinion of the Ingham County Circuit Court, Issued December 6, 2010 (Docket No. 10-422-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Kimberly L. Martinez
Employer: Old West Properties LLC
Docket no.: 10-422-AE
Date of decision: December 6, 2010

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HOLDING: Claimant was not disqualified under Section 29(1)(a) for taking and subsequently leaving a job while her benefit year was in effect because the trial work period under Section 29(1)(a)(i) of the MESA applied.

FACTS: While Claimant was eligible for unemployment benefits, she accepted a job at Taco Bell working part time at a rate of $7.40 per hour, averaging 5-10 hours per week. After about a month, Claimant quit due to a lack of hours. The Board of Review determined that she was disqualified due to voluntary leaving under Section 29(1)(a), and Claimant appealed to the Circuit Court.

DECISION: The Circuit Court reversed the Board of Review, and Claimant is not disqualified from receiving benefits.

RATIONALE: Since Claimant had a benefit year in effect and she quit the new job within 60 days after starting it, she is entitled to application of the trial work period under Section 29(1)(a)(i). Section 29(6) states that a job may be considered unsuitable work if the pay rate is under 70 percent of the gross pay rate a claimant received immediately before becoming unemployed. Because the job at Taco Bell was unsuitable under the 70 percent rue due to lack of hours and she quit within the trial work period, Claimant is not disqualified.

Digest Author: Nick Phillips
Digest Editor: Jack Battaglia
Digest Updated: 8/14

Ford v Warren Truck Assembly Plant – 10.117

Ford v Warren Truck Assembly Plant
Digest no. 10.117

Sections 27(c), 29(1)(a), 48

Cite as: Ford v Warren Truck Assembly Plant, 2010 BR 212131 (B2002-10190).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Jacinta L. Ford
Employer: Warren Truck Assembly Plant
Docket no.: B 2010-10190-212131W
Date of decision: November 24, 2010

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HOLDING: Where an employee leaves her job pursuant to a buyout agreement that is offered after the employee is indefinitely laid off and as part of the employer’s plan to separate a substantial number of workers from employment, the employee is not disqualified from unemployment benefits.

FACTS: Claimant was indefinitely laid off from her job at Chrysler on May 1, 2009. She officially left her employment with Chrysler pursuant to a voluntary termination buyout plan that was offered after she was indefinitely laid off, and she applied for benefits. UIA found Claimaint ineligible for benefits because she voluntarily left her employment without good cause attributable to her employer, and an ALJ affirmed the redetermination finding. Claimant appealed to the Board of Review.

DECISION: Claimant is not disqualified from benefits under Section 29(1)(a), as although she left her employment voluntarily, there was good cause attributable to her employer. However, Section 48(2) requires that Claimant’s buyout payment will be used to offset the benefit payment that she received that same week.

RATIONALE: In this case, claimant left her employment voluntarily. However, since it was well known in Michigan that Chrysler would be terminating a substantial number of workers in the height of the recession, and Claimant had already been laid off indefinitely, the Board of Review found that the employer’s actions in offering a buyout package would have caused a reasonable, average, and otherwise qualified worker to give up his or her employment.

Additionally, this is distinguishable from McArthur v. Borman’s, 200 Mich App 686 (1993), in which a worker accepted a buyout package instead of two more years of employment, because in the present case it was clear that a large number of employees would soon be terminated. Also, MESA was amended in 2002 to provide in Section 48(2) that remuneration or other monetary consideration provided pursuant to a buyout is to be considered in determining whether an individual is employed and what benefits that individual is entitled to. This amendment clarifies the legislative intent for voluntary buyouts to not per se disqualify a claimant from benefits.

Finally, under 29(1)(a), a claimant who is disqualified is subject to “rework” provisions under 29(3)(f) which require claimants to join the workforce again and earn at least twelve times their weekly benefit amount to requalify for unemployment benefits. The taking of a buyout package is performing a sort of service for an employer, and employees are induced by the employer to take a buyout package. Accordingly, the Board of Review believed that applying 29(1)(a) to such employees was contrary to the spirit of the Act.

Digest Author: Nick Phillips
Digest Updated: 8/14

Myllylahti v. Full Force Diamond Drilling – 10.109

Myllylahti v. Full Force Diamond Drilling
Digest No. 10.109

Section 421.29(1)(a)

Cite as: Myllylahti v Full Force Diamond Drilling, unpublished opinion of the Ontonagon County Circuit Court, issued February 9, 2010 (Docket No. 09-71 AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Robert J. Myllylahti
Employer: Full Force Diamond Drilling USA, Inc.
Date of decision: February 9, 2010

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HOLDING: Where the working conditions imposed on a claimant by the employer are mentally and physically challenging enough to cause a reasonable, average or otherwise qualified worker to give up his employment, the claimant’s leaving was with good cause attributable to the employer.   

FACTS: Claimant began working for the employer on October 1, 2008 as a driller’s assistant working 13 hours per day, seven days per week. Claimant’s last day of work was October 22, 2008, when Claimant quit without prior notice to employer in the middle of his shift. Claimant indicated that the work was too hard and he could no longer do it. However, Claimant did not notify his employer of any work-related problems prior to quitting.

DECISION: The ALJ found that Claimant was disqualified for benefits. The MCAC affirmed. The Circuit Court reversed. Claimant is not disqualified for benefits.  

RATIONALE: To determine whether an employee left employment due to good cause attributable to the employer, the reasonable person standard is applied. “Under that standard, ‘good cause’ compelling an employee to terminate his or her employment should be found where the employer’s actions would cause a reasonable, average, or otherwise qualified worker to give up his or her employment.” Carswell v Share House, Inc, 151 Mich App 392, 396-397 (1986). The cumulative effect of 13 hours of heavy manual labor every day for twenty-two days straight, both mentally and physically, on a reasonable, average or otherwise qualified worker is born out by the record. Claimant’s physical inability to continue to do the job demanded of him by the employer, under working conditions imposed by the employer, would cause a reasonable, average or otherwise qualified worker to give up his employment, as well. This constitutes good cause attributable to the employer and not a personal reason attributable to claimant.

Digest author: Cydney Warburton, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest updated: 10/31/2017

Bechill v. Benzie County Government Center – 10.98

Bechill v. Benzie County Government Center
Digest No. 10.98

Section 421.29(1)(a)

Cite as: Bechill v Benzie Co. Gov’t Ctr, Benzie Circuit Court, No. B 2007-21980-RM2-201487W (August 21, 2009).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Richard J. Bechill
Employer: Benzie County Government Center
Docket no.: 201487wh
Date of decision: August 21, 2009

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HOLDING: When a claimant voluntarily terminates his or her employment, a significant reduction in wages (via a reduction in work hours) constitutes good cause attributable to the employer as a matter of public policy.

FACTS: Claimant was a dispatcher at the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office. For the first five months of his employment, Claimant was working an average of 40 hours per week. Over the summer, as a result of a myriad of factors, Claimant voluntarily worked an average of 18.25 hours per week. When Claimant saw that he was only scheduled for 3 days of work (16-20 hours) for the entirety of the next month (which he has not requested), Claimant voluntarily terminated his employment.

Claimant applied for unemployment benefits but was denied. He subsequently appealed this decision and the Board of Review upheld the denial of benefits due to the fact that (1) Claimant could not show proof that he was guaranteed a certain number of hours per week and (2) Claimant failed to show that a reasonable person would have quit instead of filing a grievance under the collective bargaining agreement that governed Claimant’s employment. Claimant then submitted a request a rehearing which was denied.

DECISION: The Board of Review decision is reversed and Claimant is entitled to unemployment benefits.

RATIONALE: As a matter of public policy, a non-voluntary, significant reduction in wages constitutes good cause attributable to the employer. If the court did not allow this to constitute good cause, this could allow employers to reduce wages near benefit level instead of releasing an employee. This would compel the employee’s resignation while simultaneously making them ineligible for benefits. Robertson v. Brown, 139 So. 2d 226, 229, 100 ALR 2d 1052 (La. Ct. App. 1962). This could make reducing hours a weapon of control for employers to make employees comply with their demands. Bunny’s Waffle Shop, Inc. v. Cal. Emp’t Comm’n, 151 P.2d 224, 227-28, 24 Cal. 2d 735, 741-43 (1944).

Digest Author: Cydney Warburton, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest Updated: 1/6/2016

Mietz v UIA – 10.107

Mietz v UIA
Digest no. 10.107

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Mietz v UIA, Unpublished Opinion of the Bay County Circuit Court, Issued July 13, 2009 (Docket No. 09-3137-AEKS).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Becky Mietz
Employer: N/A
Docket no.: 09-3137-AEKS
Date of decision: July 13, 2009

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HOLDING: Claimant’s voluntary leaving was with good cause attributable to the Employer when Employer increases Claimant’s workload up to 50-100% at times and the nature of her job was stressful enough that a reasonably average and otherwise qualified worker would have given up her employment.

FACTS: Claimant was employed Michigan Department of Human Service beginning in July 2006. She worked as a protective service worker and the job was extremely stressful, manifesting itself in physical and mental symptoms including loss of sleep and concentration. At times, the caseload fluctuated 50 to 100% increases from her normal workload. She attempted to transfer to a different job and was denied.

Claimant quit and applied for unemployment benefits in March 2008. UIA issued a redetermination denying benefits, and found that Claimant was disqualified under 29(1)(a), that she quit voluntarily with no good cause. Claimant appealed, and the ALJ affirmed the UIA redetermination. Upon appeal, the Board of Review also affirmed the decision under 29(1)(a), and Claimant appealed to the Circuit Court.

DECISION: The Circuit Court overruled the Board of Review decision as it was “not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence on the whole record.”

RATIONALE: Under Section 29(1)(a), the standard of whether a voluntary leaving was with good cause attributable to the employer is that of a reasonable individual. Accordingly, if an “employer’s actions would cause a reasonable, average, and otherwise qualified worker to give up his or her employment,” this constitutes good cause. Here, the Circuit Court found that since Claimant worked in a position where she was responsible for investigating child abuse and protecting children, and her workload had been increased by 50-100% by a unilateral decision of her employer, a reasonable person would have given up her employment.

Digest author: Nick Phillips
Digest updated: 8/14

Jameson Co v Thornhill – 10.102

Jameson Co v Thornhill
Digest no. 10.102

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Jameson Co v Thornhill, unpublished opinion of the Cass County Circuit Court, issued April 7, 2008 (Docket No. 07-909-AA).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Carla T. Thornhill
Employer: Jameson Company, Ltd.
Docket no.: 07-909-AA
Date of decision: April 7, 2008

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HOLDING: Under Section 29(1)(a) as revised in 2002, there is a presumption that a claimant left her employment voluntarily, and a claimant possesses the burden of proving either that she was involuntarily discharged, or she voluntarily quit her job with good cause attributable to the employer.

FACTS: Claimant pursued an argument with Employer and was told to leave employer’s office. Claimant admitted that she understood that she was not being fired. Claimant did not return to work but instead applied for unemployment benefits.  ALJ determined that Claimant was ineligible for benefits because she voluntarily quit her job without good cause attributable to the employer. ALJ’s determination was based on Claimant’s failure to meet her burden of showing good cause. The Board of Review reversed the ALJ’s decision on the grounds that the Employer had the burden of showing lack of good cause by the Claimant. Employer appealed to the Circuit Court.

DECISION: The Board of Review’s decision is reversed. Claimant is disqualified from benefits.

RATIONALE: Prior to 2002, Section 29(1)(a) did not address whether the claimant or the employer had the burden of proof in showing whether good cause existed. As of 2002, however, Section 29(1)(a) now provides that (1) claimants have the burden of showing good cause; and (2) there is a presumption that a claimant’s leaving was voluntary and without good cause. The Board of Review’s decision relied on case law from prior to the 2002 amendment to the statute and applied an incorrect standard to determine whether Claimant is disqualified under Section 29(1)(a).

Applying the correct standard, the evidence was reviewed to determine if the Board of Review’s decision could nonetheless be supported. The Court determined that Claimant failed to provide enough evidence to establish good cause. The burden was on the Claimant to prove that leaving her job was involuntary, but the Claimant failed to do so, as the evidence presented was “not compelling enough that it would have caused a reasonable person in the same circumstances to give up his or her employment.” There was not substantial evidence on the record to support the decision by the Board of Review.

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

Jones v. Pinconning Area Schools – 10.103

Jones v. Pinconning Area Schools
Digest No. 10.103

Section 421.29(1)(a)

Cite as: Jones v Pinconning Area Schools, unpublished opinion of the Bay County Circuit Court, issued April 5, 2007 (Docket No. 187403W).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Terese G. Jones
Employer: Pinconning Area Schools
Date of decision: April 5, 2007

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HOLDING: A claimant’s decision to voluntarily leave her job following a unilateral change in her employment agreement is with good cause attributable to her employer if the claimant notifies her employer about her concerns regarding the change in her employment agreement and gives her employer the opportunity to correct her concerns prior to her resignation.  

FACTS: Claimant began work for Pinconning Area Schools on August 1, 2005 after responding to a job posting that advertised an “initial two-year contract annually renewed for future years”. Claimant was provided with a “proposed” employment contract on the first day of her employment that contained a 30 day “at-will” provision. Claimant found this objectionable since it was contrary to the two-year contract that the job posting had promised. Claimant raised these concerns with her employer and was told that they did not wish to change the contract. A second proposed contract was given to Claimant, which Claimant signed on August 10, 2005. On August 11, 2005, Claimant tendered her resignation. The ALJ found that Claimant was disqualified from receiving benefits. The MCAC reversed, finding Claimant was not disqualified.   

DECISION: The Circuit Court affirmed the decision of the MCAC. Claimant is not disqualified from receiving benefits.

RATIONALE: The employer unilaterally changed the terms of Claimant’s employment because the employer’s only offer had been set forth in its job posting, and Claimant’s acceptance of the position was predicated by the terms that were set forth in the posting.

Material changes in an employment contract may constitute good cause for quitting if: (1) a claimant provides the employer with notice and an opportunity to correct the claimant’s concerns; (2) the employer fails to correct these concerns; and (3) the claimant’s concerns are reasonable. Here, it was reasonable for Claimant to be concerned about the unilateral change in her employment contract. Additionally, Claimant did provide employer with notice of her concerns and gave the employer an opportunity to correct her concerns prior to her resignation.

Digest author: Cydney Warburton, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest updated: 10/31/2017

 

Tonks v Bank One Columbus – 10.110

Tonks v Bank One Columbus
Digest no. 10.110

Section 29(1)(a)

Cite as: Tonks v Bank One Columbus, Unpublished Opinion of the Oakland County Circuit Court, Issued February 28, 2006 (Docket No. 05-067816-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Lillian M. Tonks
Employer: Bank One Columbus, N.A.
Docket no.: 05-067816-AE
Date of decision: February 28, 2006

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HOLDING: The standard for determining whether a Claimant’s is disqualified from benefits after her voluntary quit is not based on whether the Employer provided “reasonable accommodation” to meet the needs of Claimant’s disability, but whether the Claimant’s “good cause” for leaving her job was “attributable to the employer.”

FACTS: Claimant was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes in 1991, and worked for employer from 1996 until 2004. Claimant’s diabetes became more severe, and eventually she was required to closely monitor her blood sugar levels and eat snacks accordingly. Claimant requested accommodation to take breaks of unlimited duration, but Employer refused, pointing out that employees could have snacks at their workstations. After Claimant received gastric bypass surgery following failed lap band surgery, she had to eat very slowly to avoid vomiting. Employer attempted to accommodate her condition by breaking her two 15-minute breaks into hourly breaks of five minutes each, but Claimant had an issue finishing her food within five minutes because of the gastric bypass. Because of this, Claimant exceeded her break time twice, but was not disciplined or reprimanded in any way.

On October 18, 2004, Claimant did not report to work, but contacted Employer to seek additional accommodations. She was supported by a number of doctors that provided that she needed a great deal of time to eat, and eating was necessary because of her condition. However, she missed two weeks while disputing accommodations with Employer and was docked vacation and sick days because of it. Claimant claimed that she had been denied accommodation for her medical issue, and her 15-minute break had been taken away as a result of her adjusted schedule.

Employer wrote Claimant on November 3 stating that the breaks provided were reasonable accommodations, and if Claimant did not return to work by November 8, Employer would consider her to have abandoned her position. Claimant did nothing, and was deemed to have voluntarily resigned on November 9. Upon applying for benefits, UIA determined that Claimant was ineligible due to misconduct, but the ALJ reversed, finding that the “employer refused to make any meaningful accommodation,” and therefore Claimant “was intentionally pushed into a corner where she had no alternative but to give up her employment.” Employer appealed the ALJ decision, and the Board of Review reversed, finding that she left voluntarily and without good cause attributable to her employer. Claimant appealed, arguing that she did not voluntarily leave work, as the employer failed to accommodate her medical condition and she was left with no choice but to leave.

DECISION: The Circuit Court upheld the Board of Review decision that Claimant is disqualified from benefits.

RATIONALE: Claimant left voluntarily and without good cause attributable to her employer. Importantly, on the two occasions that Claimant did exceed her allotted time to eat for a hypoglycemic episode, there were no warnings or repercussions, and Employer did not threaten to discharge her or take other adverse employment action. Instead, Claimant chose not to return to work following the second episode. The facts on the record support a finding that Claimant’s voluntary quit was not due to good cause attributable to the employer.

Claimant’s argument that Employer failed to provide reasonable accommodation in light of her disability is not supported by authority. The “reasonable accommodation” standard of disability law is inappropriate in the context of an unemployment case and does not provide the proper analysis to determine if a claimant is entitled to benefits.

Digest Author: Nick Phillips
Digest Updated: 8/14

Wright v Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. – 10.111

Wright v Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., UIA

Digest No. 10.111

Section 29(1)(a)

 

Cite as: Wright v Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co, unpublished opinion of the Oakland County Circuit Court, issued August 18, 2005 (Docket No. 05-064329-AE).

Appeal pending: No
Claimant: Sherry Wright
Employer: Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Inc.
Date of decision: August 18, 2005

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HOLDING: When an employee resigns and takes a severance package, the separation is considered to be voluntary. “‘Voluntary’ connotes a choice between alternatives that ordinary persons find reasonable.” MacArthur v Borman’s Inc, 200 Mich App 686 (1993). An agreement between an employer and an employee that states the employer will not contest unemployment benefits is not binding on the Agency.

FACTS: Claimant worked for employer from August 19, 1986 until March 2004. In January 2004, in order to reduce its workforce, the employer offered a severance package in exchange for resignation. Part of this agreement was that the employer would not contest Claimant’s eligibility for UI benefits. Claimant was not told what would happen if she refused the offer, however she did know that she had less seniority than many other employees. Her future at the company was therefore uncertain if she did not take the severance package.

The Agency found Claimant disqualified under the voluntary leaving provision. The ALJ found that Claimant had voluntarily quit, but due to the agreement restitution was to be charged to the employer not Claimant. Board of Review and Circuit Court upheld the decision.

DECISION: The Circuit Court found that Claimant chose to take the severance package instead of continuing to work with an uncertain future. She was therefore disqualified.

RATIONALE: Claimant relied on the dissent in the Board of Review decision for her appeal. That dissent relied on unpublished opinions of the Michigan Court of Appeals and circuit court opinions. Claimant did not attach these decisions to her appeal, so the Circuit Court found them unpersuasive. Relying on MacArthur v Borman’s Inc, the Circuit Court found that Claimant could have chosen to continue to work at the employer with an uncertain future. Since Claimant, instead, chose to leave and take the severance package, she voluntarily quit.

Digest author: Andrea M. Frailey, Michigan Law, Class of 2017
Digest updated: November 26, 2017