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Lane County v. Employment Department

Court of Appeals of Oregon

September 11, 2019

LANE COUNTY, Petitioner,
v.
EMPLOYMENT DEPARTMENT and William T. Stich, Respondents.

          Submitted March 11, 2019

          Employment Appeals Board 2018EAB0336;

          Stephen E. Dingle and Sara Chinske fled the brief for petitioner.

          Denise G. Fjordbeck waived appearance for respondent Employment Department.

          William T. Stich waived appearance pro se.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Powers, Judge, and Landau, Senior Judge.

         Case Summary: Claimant, an employee of the county, was placed on four successive work plans and received a "needs improvement" rating at the end of each plan. Facing a hearing to determine whether he would receive a three-day suspension which could be followed by termination, claimant's union negotiated a settlement in which claimant would resign in exchange for monetary benefits and a neutral reference. The union representatives told claimant that his discharge was imminent and inevitable. Claimant accepted the settlement, resigned, and later sought unemployment benefits. The Employment Appeals Board concluded that claimant left work with good cause and was entitled to receive unemployment benefits. The county seeks review of the board's decision, arguing that the board erred in crediting claimant's belief that discharge was likely to occur because there was no evidence that the county was planning to discharge claimant and other predismissal remedies remained available. The county also argues that the board erred in concluding that a reasonable person under the circumstances would have voluntarily quit, especially given that there is no evidence of claimant's pending discharge. Held: The board did not err in concluding that claimant resigned for good cause. Under OAR 471-030-0038(4), good cause exists when "a reasonable and prudent person of normal sensitivity, exercising ordinary common sense, would leave work" because the person has no [299 Or.App. 374] reasonable alternative. Under the circumstances of this case, a reasonable person would have thought that resigning was the only available option.

         [299 Or.App. 375]LANDAU, S. J.

         In this unemployment compensation case, Lane County seeks review of a decision of the Employment Appeals Board (EAB) that concluded that claimant left work with good cause and was entitled to receive unemployment benefits. The county argues that EAB erred in that the record shows that claimant voluntarily quit work without good cause and therefore was disqualified from receiving benefits. We affirm.

         We take the following facts from EAB's findings. The county employed claimant as a commercial appraiser from July 2014 to December 2017. In 2016, the county determined that claimant was not meeting its minimum production standards and placed him on four successive work plans over several months. Claimant received a "needs improvement" rating at the conclusion of each work plan, and the county took increasingly severe disciplinary actions against claimant. At the conclusion of the fourth work plan, claimant had received an oral warning, a written reprimand, and a one-day unpaid suspension.

         Claimant disputed the county's "needs improvement" ratings, and his union filed three grievances on his behalf. In October 2017, the county conducted a predetermination hearing to determine whether claimant would receive a three-day suspension for his continued failure to meet the minimum production standards. Had the county imposed the three-day suspension and claimant's performance not improved, the next step in the county's discipline process could have been termination.

         Before the county decided to impose the three-day suspension, however, claimant's union contacted the county to discuss how to resolve the dispute. Following negotiations between the county and the union, the union president and a union steward presented claimant with a proposed settlement agreement under which claimant would voluntarily resign his position in exchange for monetary benefits and the county's agreement to tell future employers that claimant resigned with "no negative commentary." If claimant had not accepted the settlement, and the county had discharged [299 Or.App. 376] him, he would not have been entitled to the monetary benefits. Both the union president and the steward told claimant that his eventual discharge was imminent and inevitable. As a result, they both advised claimant to accept the settlement and resign. Claimant agreed and resigned his position effective December 1, 2017.

         Claimant then sought unemployment benefits, which the Employment Department denied. Claimant sought a hearing, and the administrative law judge affirmed the denial, concluding that claimant was disqualified from receiving benefits because he had voluntarily left work without good cause. Claimant then sought EAB review.

         Claimant argued that he left work with good cause, because he did not feel that he had a chance of succeeding there and that if he didn't accept the settlement the county's next step would have been to fire him, which would have made it much more difficult for claimant to obtain future employment. Additionally, claimant pointed out that both the union president and the steward told him that his discharge was imminent, that they would accept the settlement if they were in his place, and that it was best for him to move on. The county argued ...


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