Placement Of Deputy Chief On Work Plan Not “Adverse Action”

Laura Goodman was hired on September 8, 2003, as the deputy police chief for the City of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Over time, the relationship between Goodman and the Police Chief deteriorated to the point where the Chief gave Goodman a negative performance evaluation and placed her on a 90-day work plan.

Before the 90-day period ended, Goodman resigned, claiming the Chief made it impossible to succeed. Goodman cited as evidence her belief that the Chief would unexpectedly change the agenda at their meetings, which left her unprepared; that the Chief increased her job responsibilities; and that the Chief, despite an earlier oral agreement to the contrary, refused to give her permission to attend a conference in London, England. Goodman testified that the “last straw” was the Chief’s decision to move her from the administrative division to supervise a five-person detective unit. Because of this change, the lieutenants, who had been reporting to Goodman, now reported directly to the Chief.

Goodman filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits. Her claim faced an uphill battle because Minnesota, like most states, disqualifies from unemployment compensation employees who voluntarily quit unless they have “good reason caused by the employer” to quit. An employee has a “good reason” if the employer is responsible for an action that (1) is directly related to the employment, (2) is adverse to the employee, and (3) would compel an average, reasonable employee to quit and become unemployed rather than to continue working.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals was unconvinced that the “good reason” exception applied to Goodman. The Court’s decision turned on its conclusion that Goodman could not establish the requisite “adverse employment action” necessary to trigger the rule:

“Goodman argues that receiving a poor performance review, being placed on a work plan, and being reassigned to the detective division all are adverse employment actions. But poor performance reviews are not, standing alone, adverse employment actions. Further, being placed on a work plan was not an adverse employment action because it did not affect Goodman’s pay, benefits, or any other conditions of her employment. Finally, a job transfer that ‘lead[s] to significantly diminished responsibilities and substantially changed working conditions’ may be an adverse employment action. But a transfer to an ‘essentially equivalent job’ is not. Goodman was transferred to an essentially equivalent job, which she admits was historically held by a high-ranking officer, and suffered no loss of grade, title, or any other employment benefits; she was, after all, still the deputy chief and continued to have supervisory responsibilities. Thus, Goodman did not suffer an adverse employment action and, consequently, is not entitled to unemployment benefits.”

Goodman v. City of Brooklyn Center, 2007 WL 46289 (Minn. App. 2007).