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City of Monticello v. Employment Appeal Board

Court of Appeals of Iowa

November 21, 2018

CITY OF MONTICELLO, IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
EMPLOYMENT APPEAL BOARD, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Jones County, Kevin McKeever, Judge.

         A city appeals the judicial review order upholding the grant of unemployment benefits to a former employee. AFFIRMED.

          Douglas D. Herman, Monticello, for appellant.

          Richard R. Autry of Employment Appeal Board, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Considered by Danilson, C.J., and Vogel and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         The City of Monticello challenges the Employment Appeal Board's award of unemployment benefits to Tamera Bartram, the former parks and recreation director. The city contends Bartram is ineligible for benefits because she voluntarily ended her employment without good cause attributable to the city. In the alternative, the city argues Bartram cannot receive benefits because she refused an offer to work.

         Like the district court on judicial review, we reject the city's arguments. Substantial evidence supports finding the city eliminated Bartram's position and the agency correctly applied the law to the facts. And the refusal-to-work disqualification does not apply because the city's offers were outside the benefit year. Thus, we affirm the award of benefits.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         Bartram started working for the city in 2003 and became director of the parks and recreation department in 2004. In December 2016, the city administrator notified Bartram he planned to eliminate her position. In its place, the city would create two new positions: a parks and recreation director and a superintendent of parks and facilities. The city invited Bartram to apply for either position if she wished to remain employed. Bartram applied only for the director position. When she learned the city "gave that job to somebody else," she cried. She testified: "It told me that I wasn't worth what I had been doing all these years" and, "Honestly, I thought they just wanted to get rid of me."[1]

         The city did offer Bartram the superintendent position. But she declined. Despite the city's repeated attempts, Bartram could not be persuaded to accept the superintendent position. Bartram worked until the city eliminated her position on February 28, 2017.

         After her employment ended, Bartram filed a claim for unemployment benefits. In March 2017, a representative of Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) denied her claim, stating "our records indicate you voluntarily quit work on 02/28/17." The IWD cited Iowa Code section 96.5(1) (2017) as the basis for her disqualification from receipt of benefits.[2]

         Bartram appealed the IWD decision to an administrative law judge (ALJ) who overturned the disqualification and found Bartram eligible for unemployment benefits. The ALJ wrote:

Claimant applied for the director position, but was notified in January that someone else had been offered the job. Claimant was offered the superintendent position, which would have included much of the same job duties, at the same rate of pay and benefits she was currently receiving. Claimant turned that position down. Claimant was told the new director would be starting on March 1 and agreed to stay on in her current position until that time. ...

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