Fired Police Chief Loses Claim For Unemployment Benefits

The City of Lewiston, Minnesota employed David Kleinschmidt as the Chief of Police from September 2008 to March 5, 2010. In February 2008, Kleinschmidt began his employment with the City as an interim police officer and was subsequently promoted to full-time officer. He then became interim Chief of Police in September 2008 until he was promoted to permanent Chief of Police in November 2008. Kleinschmidt submitted three different resumes when applying for these positions.

In two of his resumes, Kleinschmidt listed Premiere Security under his work experience. Premiere was owned by Daniel Walker, the City’s interim Chief of Police who interviewed Kleinschmidt for the interim police officer position in February 2008. Walker and Kleinschmidt first became acquainted when they both worked as police officers for the Wabasha Police Department several years before. In 2007, Walker asked Kleinschmidt if he would be willing to be placed on a roster of employees for Premiere to call in case of emergencies. Kleinschmidt agreed, but was never called to perform any services and therefore never worked at Premiere.

In October 2009, the City terminated Walker’s employment and held a post-termination hearing at which Kleinschmidt testified. During his testimony, Kleinschmidt stated that he had “never” worked for Premiere Security, and when asked if he knew Walker before joining the Department, said: “I know of him by what people said about him on the street. I knew who he was because of his security company. Everybody around here knows him for that.”

The City later found out that Kleinschmidt had listed Premiere on his resume under his work experience and that Kleinschmidt had known Walker before his employment with the City. The City terminated Kleinschmidt’s employment finding that “he was not truthful, honest and candid” which “negatively impacts his abilities to perform official police officer functions and seriously diminishes the City’s confidence in his leadership and overall job performance.”

Kleinschmidt applied for unemployment benefits. Under Minnesota law, an employee who is discharged for employment “misconduct” is ineligible for unemployment benefits. “Misconduct,” in turn, means 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; or (2) a substantial lack of concern for the employment.”

The Minnesota Court of Appeals rejected Kleinschmidt’s claim, finding that “substantial evidence in the record supports the finding that the answers were evasive and misleading, and therefore dishonest. Kleinschmidt testified that he had ‘never’ worked for Premiere even though he listed Premiere on his resume. Under Premiere, his resume states, ‘Perform security for businesses, check doors, walk around and make sure everything is safe, report problems to supervisor.’ This indicates that Kleinschmidt did in fact work for Premiere and supports the finding that his answer was misleading and evasive. Kleinschmidt’s answers about only knowing ‘of’ Walker ‘by what people said about him on the street’ and ‘because of his security company’ were similarly evasive and misleading in light of the fact that Kleinschmidt, several years before his employment with the City, worked with Walker in the Wabasha Police Department and was asked by Walker in 2007 to join a roster of on-call employees for Premiere. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that Kleinschmidt’s answers were a good-faith error in judgment.”

Kleinschmidt also argued that “whether or not his answer to the City Attorney’s question was true or false, it is clear that it was not material to his position as Chief of Police.” The Court firmly rejected this contention, holding that “Kleinschmidt’s attempt to trivialize the seriousness of misleading and evasive communications by a Chief of Police to the City that employs him is unconvincing because even Kleinschmidt agreed with the City Attorney at the evidentiary hearing that honesty and forthcoming in his dealings with his employer is very important to his position. Thus, substantial evidence in the record shows that any misleading or evasive answers by Kleinschmidt to the City would constitute unreasonable conduct in light of the duties and conduct that is expected of the Chief of Police and would be material to his position.”

Kleinschmidt v. City of Lewiston, 2011 WL 3557861 (Minn. App. 2011).

This article appears in the November 2011 issue.