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Reese v. Augsburg College

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 9, 2013

Sherron Y. Reese, Relator,
Augsburg College, Respondent, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent.


Department of Employment and Economic Development File No. 29939104-3.

Marcus A. Jarvis, Jarvis & Associates, P.C., Burnsville, Minnesota (for relator) Augsburg College, Minneapolis, Minnesota (respondent).

Lee B. Nelson, Christine E. Hinrichs, Department of Employment and Economic Development, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent department).

Considered and decided by Johnson, Chief Judge; Ross, Judge; and Bjorkman, Judge.


Sherron Y. Reese was employed by Augsburg College until she quit on the ground that she was being harassed and treated unfairly by her supervisor. An unemployment law judge determined that Reese is ineligible for unemployment compensation benefits because she quit her employment without a good reason caused by the employer. We affirm.


Reese was an academic advisor at Augsburg College from November 2010 to June 2012.[1] During an evidentiary hearing before an unemployment law judge (ULJ), Reese testified to several situations in which she felt she was harassed.

The first incident concerned a negative performance evaluation, which Reese received in February or March 2011. Reese's supervisor, Alyson Olson, testified that she made "a list of concerns, " which eventually became a formal "performance improvement plan." Reese believed that the performance improvement plan was unfair and had several meetings with Olson and representatives of the human resources department to discuss the plan and Reese's relationship with Olson. Assistant vice president of human resources Andrea Turner recommended that Olson convert the performance improvement plan into a "training plan" because Reese was a relatively new employee. Olson complied and revised the plan to specify several areas in which Reese could improve her work performance. Reese was assured that the plan was not intended to punish her but, rather, was intended to ensure that she received adequate training.

A second incident concerned a donation of two laptops to two students in October 2011. After some miscommunication and confusion, Olson decided to give one laptop to one student and to create a process by which a second person would receive the second laptop. A Caucasian student received the first laptop; an African American student for whom a laptop had been requested did not receive one. Reese testified that Olson did not inform her of the reasons for distributing the laptops in that manner. Reese believes that Olson's decision was motivated by race.

A third incident concerned a presentation made by Reese in February 2012. The assistant director of the program for which Reese worked, Kevin Cheatham, asked Reese to give him a presentation that she previously had given to visitors of the admissions office. After Reese did so, Cheatham told her that "everything [she] said was incorrect" and that the presentation was not helpful. Reese testified that he spoke to her in a very "mean and harsh" tone. Reese testified that she asked Cheatham how she could improve the presentation, but Cheatham did not respond. She also testified that Cheatham and Olson gave her conflicting instructions regarding whether she should train on a certain computer program and that Cheatham excluded her from a meeting that she felt she should have attended.

Reese met with Turner more than once to express concerns about the way she was being treated. After a May 2011 meeting, Turner investigated Reese's concerns and determined that Olson treated Reese no differently than she treated any other employee in the department. Turner also determined that other employees had been required to undergo the same training provided by Reese's training plan. In February 2012, Reese again met with Turner, Olson, and other members of the department to discuss her training plan. At that time, Reese had completed one-third of the objectives in the training plan. At the meeting, Olson suggested that Reese develop her own plan to complete the remaining objectives. Turner also offered to meet with Reese to help her accomplish the objectives, but Reese did not follow up on the offer.

In April 2012, Reese went on a medical leave of absence. She testified that the leave of absence was caused by stress and harassment at work. Her physician filled out an FMLA form by stating that Reese's leave was due to depression ...

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