H. Boyd, Kyle R. Kroll, Winthrop & Weinstine, P.A.,
Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent Nina Wilson.
Nelson, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic
Development, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.
Charles H. Thomas, Paul Onkka, Southern Minnesota Regional
Legal Services, Inc., Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus
curiae Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc.
Because the statutory definition of "employment
misconduct" in Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 6(a)
(2016), is the exclusive definition for determining employee
eligibility for unemployment benefits, the court of appeals
erred in applying an incompatible common law materiality
Because respondent Wilson's misrepresentations on her
employment application constitute "employment
misconduct" under section 268.095, subdivision 6(a), she
is not eligible for unemployment benefits.
GILDEA, Chief Justice.
case, we are asked to decide what qualifies as
"employment misconduct" under the Minnesota
Unemployment Insurance Law. Minn. Stat. ch. 268 (2014).
Concluding that respondent Nina Wilson was discharged for
"employment misconduct" under Minn. Stat. §
268.095, subd. 4 (2016), an Unemployment Law Judge (ULJ)
determined that she was ineligible for unemployment benefits.
The court of appeals reversed, applying its own precedent to
conclude that Wilson's conduct did not constitute
employment misconduct. Wilson v. Mortg. Res. Ctr.,
Inc., No. A15-0435, 2015 WL 9264038, at *2 (Minn.App.
Dec. 21, 2015). Because we conclude that the court of appeals
applied an improper definition of "employment
misconduct" and that under the proper definition,
Wilson's conduct was "employment misconduct, "
Wilson applied for employment as a Client Services
Representative with Mortgage Resource Center, Inc. (MRC) on
June 6, 2014. MRC is an electronic information provider that
offers online manuals and educational services to the
mortgage and banking industry. The "primary
purpose" of the client services position was to
"handl[e] incoming customer service and sales inquiries,
[and] various product fulfillment activities." The
person hired would also have been responsible for
"end-user product support, moderately complex technical
support, invoicing support, order placement and lead
qualification." The position required, among other
things, a "2 or 4 year undergraduate degree or
equivalent experience" and "[a]t least 5 years of
account management or customer service experience."
Wilson's application, she circled "12" as her
highest grade completed, and wrote that she had received a
GED (general educational development diploma) from the
"MN Educational Center" in
Minneapolis. She also noted that she had almost 20
years of relevant experience. On the last page of the
application, above the signature line, MRC required its
applicants to attest that "the answers given by me to
the foregoing questions and any statements made by me are
complete and true to the best of my knowledge and
belief." That section also required applicants to
certify that "I understand that any false information,
omissions, or misrepresentations of facts regarding
information called for in this application may result in
rejection of my application, or discharge at any time during
my employment." Similar language appeared on the first
page of the application. An applicant's signature also
authorized MRC to order a background check. Wilson signed the
offered Wilson the client services position on June 9, 2014,
"contingent upon the successful result of this
background search." The next day, MRC ordered a
background check from a third party provider. On June 17,
2014, the third party provider returned a report to MRC
stating that it could not verify that Wilson had received a
GED. Wilson began her employment on June 23, 2014.
mid-August, MRC noticed, as it reviewed its files as part of
the process of being acquired by another company, that the
background check had not verified Wilson's GED. MRC's
human resources manager attempted to verify Wilson's GED
by contacting state officials but was not able to confirm
that Wilson had received a GED.
September 10, 2014, MRC sent a letter via e-mail to Wilson
stating that it had been unable to verify her GED and asking
her to submit documentation no later than September 17, 2014,
proving that she had received a GED. The letter informed
Wilson that if she did not reply by the deadline, MRC would
"proceed under the assumption that the representation in
[her] application was not accurate." Wilson, who was on
medical leave at the time, did not respond. She testified
that she received the letter but did not respond to MRC's
request because of her health condition.
September 19, 2014, MRC sent Wilson a second letter via
e-mail terminating her employment. The termination letter
stated that because Wilson did not respond to MRC's
September 10 letter, the company assumed the representation
she made in her application was "not accurate, "
and her employment was terminated effective immediately.
noted on the job application, MRC had a policy of terminating
employees who provided false information on their employment
applications. MRC's president testified that other
employees had been terminated for violating this policy. For
MRC, he stated, "[i]t's an integrity and character
applied for unemployment benefits with the Department of
Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the department
charged with administering and supervising the unemployment
insurance program under Minn. Stat. § 116J.401, subd.
2(a)(18) (2016). DEED issued a Determination of Eligibility,
finding that Wilson was discharged during the week of August
3, 2014, because of a medical condition, illness, or injury,
and so was eligible to receive unemployment
benefits. MRC appealed.
a telephonic hearing, the ULJ issued findings of fact and a
decision concluding that MRC discharged Wilson, "in
large part, " because of its concern about her
"false statements" about receiving a GED. The ULJ
determined that Wilson's misrepresentations that she had
received a high school "degree" were employment
misconduct and concluded that she was ineligible for
unemployment benefits. Wilson filed a request for
reconsideration, after which the ULJ affirmed his findings of
fact and conclusions of law.
appealed to the court of appeals, relying on that court's
precedent that predated Minnesota's codification of a
definition of "employment misconduct." Under that
precedent, a misrepresentation on an application is
employment misconduct only when it is material to the
position. In other words, to be ineligible for benefits under
the court of appeals' rule, the evidence must show that
the employer would not have hired the employee had the
employer known the truth about the matter the employee
misrepresented on the application. See, e.g.,
Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 709 v. Hansen, 412 N.W.2d 320,
323 (Minn.App. 1987).
this precedent, the court of appeals reversed the ULJ. The
court reasoned that conduct during the hiring process is
analyzed differently than conduct during employment.
Wilson, No. A15-0435, 2015 WL 9264038, at *1. In
particular, the court held that MRC failed to meet its burden
of showing that it would not have hired Wilson had it known
the truth about her lack of a GED. The court also concluded
that MRC did not otherwise demonstrate how a GED was material
to the position for which Wilson applied. Id.
Because the court determined that MRC did not terminate
Wilson for "employment misconduct, " the court held
that she was entitled to unemployment benefits. Id.
We granted DEED's petition for review.
appeal, DEED argues that the court of appeals erred in
reversing the ULJ's conclusion that Wilson engaged in
employment misconduct. Specifically, DEED contends that the
materiality standard the court of appeals applied is
inconsistent with the statutory definition of
"employment misconduct" in Minn. Stat. §
268.095, subd. 6 (2016). When the statutory definition is
applied, DEED argues that Wilson committed employment
misconduct and therefore she is not eligible for unemployment
first determine whether, as DEED argues, the court of appeals
erred in how it defined "employment misconduct."
After we determine the applicable definition, we examine
whether Wilson's actions meet that definition.
first to the definition of "employment misconduct."
DEED relies on the definition in the statute. The statute
provides that an employee discharged because of
"employment misconduct" is not eligible for
unemployment benefits. Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd. 4(1).
The statute specifically defines "employment
misconduct" as "any intentional, negligent, or
indifferent conduct, on the job or off the job that displays
clearly: (1) a serious violation of the standards of behavior
the employer has the right to reasonably expect of the
employee." Minn. Stat. § 268.095, subd.
acknowledges the statutory definition but she contends that
the court of appeals' materiality standard is applicable
to her situation. The materiality standard has its origins in
Tilseth v. Midwest Lumber Co., 295 Minn. 372,
374-75, 204 N.W.2d 644, 646 (Minn. 1973), a case we decided
before the Legislature adopted a statutory definition of
"employment misconduct." Act of Apr. 23, 1997, ch.
66, § 49, 1997 Minn. Laws 357, 387.
court of appeals relied on our discussion of misconduct in
Tilseth in crafting the materiality standard.
See Heitman v. Cronstroms Mfg., Inc., 401 N.W.2d
425, 427 (Minn.App. 1987); see also Hansen, 412
N.W.2d at 323. In Heitman, the court of appeals
determined that misrepresentations during the hiring process
should be analyzed differently from other types of
misconduct. 401 N.W.2d at 427-28. Specifically, the court
concluded that a misrepresentation made during the
application process must be "material to the position
obtained" for the misrepresentation to constitute
misconduct under the statute. Id. at 427. And in
Hansen, the court of appeals applied
Heitman and held that a misrepresentation is
material to a position if a truthful answer to the question
would have prevented the applicant from being hired. 412
N.W.2d at 322-23.
argues that under the explicit terms of the statute, no other
definition of "employment misconduct, " including
prior common law definitions, can apply. Wilson, on the other
hand, contends that the court of appeals did not err in
applying its prior case law because the materiality standard
remains instructive ...