Cruson v. Missoula Elec. Cooperative, Inc.

Cruson v. Missoula Elec. Cooperative, Inc., 2015 MT 309 (Oct. 27, 2015) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred in affirming the Board of labor Appeals’ conclusion that Cruson was disqualified for unemployment benefits because his voluntary termination did not constitute good cause attributable to his employment.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Missoula Electric Cooperative employed Cruson as a master electrician from October 2001 until May 2013. In 2009, shortly after Mark Hayden became general manager for MEC, Cruson complained that unqualified employees were doing work that only an electrician could perform, jeopardizing his license. In response, Hayden implemented a computer system that allowed employees like Cruson to review whether work orders were being assigned properly. MEC contacted the state electrical board in 2012 for guidance regarding the scope of practice of a lineman versus an electrician, and received an email from the board’s attorney confirming that certain electrical work exceeds the scope of a lineman’s practice.

In August 2012 MEC advertised for an apprentice lineman. Cruson applied although the position paid about 40% less than his wage as a master electrician. MEC did not hire any applicants for the job. Cruson filed an age discrimination claim against MEC, and the HRB found in Cruson’s favor in April 2013. Four weeks later, MEC made an unconditional offer of the apprentice lineman position to Cruson, which he rejected.

Cruson resigned in May 2013 and filed for unemployment benefits. After initially determining Cruson was disqualified, the department overturned its original finding and granted Cruson unemployment benefits. MEC appealed. After taking testimony from Cruson and Hayden, the hearing officer found that MEC attempted to address Cruson’s concerns as they arose, and that Cruson’s reason for quitting was not attributable to his employment, reversing the department’s decision. Cruson appealed to the Board of Labor Appeals (BOLA), which affirmed.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Cruson petitioned the district court for judicial review. The district court held that board correctly applied the law to the facts and denied Cruson’s appeal. Cruson appeals and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: The Court affirms BOLA’s findings of fact, and agrees that whether an employer had a reasonable opportunity to correct a problem is a factual issue. The hearing officer found no indication Cruson’s license was ever at risk, and MEC did not reduce Cruson’s wages or compel him to seek a lower-paying position. Because the board’s findings are supported by substantial evidence, its legal conclusion was correct.