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Cindy J. Brown v. Employment Appeal Board

March 27, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, DeDra L. Schroeder, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tabor, J.

A former hotel employee appeals a district court's order affirming the Employment Appeal Board's denial of unemployment benefits. AFFIRMED.

Considered by Vaitheswaran, P.J., and Tabor and Mullins, JJ.

An employee who quit her job at the Budget Inn contends she is entitled to unemployment benefits. Cindy Brown argues she had good cause to voluntarily leave her position because the hotel's new owners demoted her and reduced her salary after learning her high blood pressure prevented her from working overtime. An administrative law judge (ALJ) determined Brown's decision to quit could not be attributed to her employer and denied benefits. The Employment Appeal Board and district court agreed. We find substantial evidence to support the agency's fact-finding and do not view the denial of benefits as unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious. Accordingly, we affirm.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings

Brown started working at the Clear Lake Budget Inn as a day shift desk clerk in December 2004. After being promoted to manager, she earned $800 every two weeks. The management position required her to work between forty-five and sixty-five hours per week.

New owners began operating the hotel on September 10, 2011. On September 26, 2011, Brown was hospitalized for high blood pressure and told not to return to work without medical clearance. On September 30, Dr. John Boedeker approved her return to work, but restricted her to forty hours per week.*fn1

Dr. Boedeker did not specify that Brown's restriction would last only until her blood pressure returned to a normal level, but she testified the doctor told her she could return to her previous hours once she recovered.

When Brown reported for her shift on October 1, she told her employer: "I could only do 40 hours and it was only until my blood pressure c[a]me back down." At the end of her shift, the new owners offered her a forty-hour per week position as a desk clerk at the rate of $7.25 an hour. The demotion decreased her biweekly pay to $580-the rate of a starting employee. Brown responded: "I'm done," threw her keys, and walked out.

On October 18, 2011, the Iowa Work Force Development Unemployment Insurance Division determined Brown was eligible to receive benefits. Budget Inn appealed the award. An ALJ held a hearing on December 5, 2011.*fn2 The next day, the ALJ reversed the work force development decision, finding Brown "was on non-work-related medical restrictions which prevented her from carrying out the essential duties of the manager position."

Brown appealed the ALJ's decision to the Employment Appeal Board. On February 20, 2012, two members of the board entered a split decision, which by operation of law affirmed the ALJ's ruling. See Iowa Admin. Code r. 486-3.3(3) (providing split by two-member board results in affirming ALJ's decision). The board held: "The Findings of Fact and Reasoning and Conclusions of Law of the administrative law judge are adopted by the Board."*fn3 Brown requested rehearing, attaching medical records from her hospital stay. The board denied her request.

Brown sought judicial review. On August 13, 2012, the district court received briefs and heard arguments on the matter. On September 10, 2012, the district court denied Brown's petition. She then brought this appeal.

II. Scope and Standards of Review

Iowa Code section 17A.19(10) (2011) governs judicial review of an

administrative decision. NextEra Energy Res. LLC v. Iowa Utils. Bd., 815 N.W.2d 30, 36 (Iowa 2012). If the agency action prejudiced the petitioner's substantial rights, and the action meets one of the criteria listed in section 17A.19(10), the district court may grant relief. Evercom Sys., Inc. v. Iowa Utils. Bd., 805 N.W.2d 758, 762 (Iowa 2011). We apply the standards set forth in section 17A.19(10) to determine whether our conclusion matches the district court's result. Id.

Our standard of review depends upon the petitioner's challenge to the agency's decision. Burton v. Hilltop Care Ctr., 813 N.W.2d 250, 256 (Iowa 2012). If the agency is clearly vested with the authority to make fact-findings on an issue, then we may disturb those findings on judicial review only if they are unsupported by substantial evidence when reviewing the record as a whole. Id. "Substantial evidence" is "the quantity and quality of evidence that would be deemed sufficient by a neutral, detached, and reasonable person, to establish the fact at issue when the ...

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