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Erickson v. Department of Employment and Economic Development

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 16, 2013

Reed A. Erickson, Relator,
v.
Department of Employment and Economic Development, Respondent.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Department of Employment and Economic Development File No. 29838279-7

Reed A. Erickson, Side Lake, Minnesota (pro se relator)

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

Considered and decided by Worke, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Connolly, Judge.

WORKE, Judge

Relator challenges an unemployment-law judge (ULJ) decision that he is ineligible to receive unemployment benefits because he was discharged for employment misconduct. We affirm.

FACTS

On June 1, 2012, relator Reed A. Erickson was discharged from his seven-year position as a state program administrative director overseeing the Minnesota small cities development program (SCDP), which is a part of respondent Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Erickson's discharge was preceded by his placement on administrative leave in the fall of 2011 while DEED investigated his expense-report discrepancies and work performance. Erickson was discharged because he had repeated incidents of inappropriate recording of time records, travel, and expenses, and he "fail[ed] to follow administrative rules and laws in the administering of [c]ommunity [d]evelopment [b]lock [g]rants." Erickson was initially determined ineligible to receive unemployment benefits, and he appealed.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the ULJ found that Erickson "did not make any expense reimbursement requests for expenses that were not incurred or expended for non-business purposes." The ULJ also found that SCDP had discretion to not follow funding-allocation percentages provided for by rule, and that Erickson's "funding recommendations [were] reviewed and approved by the commissioner." The ULJ's findings also reflected the reasonableness of Erickson's consideration of the communities' capacities to perform projects in recommending project funding, and actions regarding environmental compliance with federal law. The ULJ concluded that Erickson's conduct may have been unsatisfactory, but it did not constitute misconduct.

DEED sought reconsideration and submitted a lengthy investigative report[1] that fully addressed the reasons for Erickson's discharge. A law firm had been retained to investigate whether Erickson (1) had travel, expense, and timekeeping irregularities, and (2) whether Erickson properly performed his program-management duties.

At the second evidentiary ruling, Erickson was asked detailed questions about his claimed expenses and reported work time, his improper personal use of a rental vehicle, and his golfing while attending a work conference and charging the golf fees on a work credit card. The ULJ discovered numerous discrepancies that Erickson was unable to explain other than to label as errors. The ULJ ruled that Erickson was discharged, in part, for using an employer credit card for non-business expenses "and seeking reimbursement for expenses that were either not incurred or incurred for non-business purposes." In deciding that Erickson was discharged for employment misconduct, the ULJ found the DEED witnesses and investigative report to be more credible evidence than Erickson's testimony, stating:

[M]uch of [Erickson's] testimony seemed self-serving and implausible, and the report was very detailed and identified significant discrepancies and inaccuracies in the information Erickson provided during the investigation and his expense reports. It is more likely that he was incurring expenses for his own personal use and charging those expenses to an agency credit card or obtaining reimbursement for those expenses from DEED. Erickson's claim that he believed the golf expense was appropriate was not credible because it is not plausible that a management-level employee would assume it was permissible to charge the state for leisure expenses that were unrelated to the conference he was attending. The ...

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