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Valerie Joy Tronnes v. Job Service North Dakota

March 15, 2012


Appeal from the District Court of Grand Forks County, Northeast Central Judicial District, the Honorable Debbie Gordon Kleven, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

N.D. Supreme CourtTronnes v. Job Service,

2012 ND 57

This opinion is subject to petition for rehearing.

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Opinion of the Court by VandeWalle, Chief Justice.

[¶1] Valerie Joy Tronnes appealed from a judgment affirming the decision of Job Service North Dakota that denied her claim for unemployment benefits. We affirm.


[¶2] In 2002, Tronnes began working part-time at the Wal-Mart Vision Center. Wal-Mart distributes wages to its employees through a debit card system every two weeks. On September 2, 2010, Tronnes received her paycheck. Tronnes obtained a cashier's check and purchased a few items at Wal-Mart's customer service center. The cashier's check and purchased items totaled $330. This amount was mistakenly credited to Tronnes's account by a different employee rather than deducted, which resulted in a $660 benefit to Tronnes.

[¶3] On September 30, 2010, Tronnes met with the vision center manager, Pat Johnson, and the asset protection coordinator, Sherry Hasier, about the $660. Tronnes testified she noticed there was extra money in her account but she believed the amount was correct. Tronnes was issued a paid day off, or "D-day," to decide whether to remain employed with Wal-Mart. In a voluntary quit worksheet, Tronnes stated Johnson and Hasier told her the situation was "an integrity issue." Tronnes testified she believed a "D-day" was an indication she was going to be fired in the future. After meeting with Johnson and Hasier, Tronnes contacted Job Service to look for other employment. Tronnes returned to Wal-Mart and met with Cameron Stull, the store manager. Stull revoked the "D-day" because he believed the $660 benefit to Tronnes was not her fault and asked her to report to work the next day. Tronnes informed Stull she had made other plans but would return to work on October 2, 2010. Stull testified he told Tronnes they could work out repayment of the $660 in the future. Stull stated Tronnes told him she was looking for another job, and he believed she would be quitting, so he told her she would need to repay Wal-Mart the $660. Tronnes suggested her sick leave and vacation time could cover the money. Tronnes gave conflicting testimony about whether an agreement to pay back the money was reached when she met with Stull on September 30. Tronnes testified: "I told [Stull] I would continue working and that I could try to work something out as far as paying it back. I had agreed to pay it back[.]" When asked by the referee, "Okay, so, there was an arrangement that you would pay it back, it would just have to be over a period of time?" Tronnes responded, "There was an arrangement, right, correct, but there was nothing written out at that point." Later in the hearing, the referee asked, "Okay, so if you didn't return they'd take the whole check, if you did return it was your understanding that they would take it out in increments." Tronnes answered, "Absolutely nothing had been agreed upon at that point."

[¶4] Tronnes worked her shifts at Wal-Mart from October 2-13, 2010. On October 13, 2010, a regularly scheduled payday, Tronnes attempted to use her debit card but it was declined because her account had a balance of zero. Tronnes spoke to Johnson and learned her paycheck had been withheld to offset a portion of the $660, and Johnson instructed her to speak with Stull or the regional optical manager. Tronnes did not speak to Stull or the regional optical manager and instead contacted Wal-Mart's human resources department in Fargo. Tronnes testified she was told there was nothing Wal-Mart could do for at least two weeks. She also testified there was no written agreement in place to allow her paycheck to be withheld. Tronnes called Wal-Mart to state she would not be coming to work during the shifts she was scheduled to work between October 13 and October 30, 2010.

[ΒΆ5] On November 10, 2010, Tronnes filed a claim for unemployment benefits with Job Service, which determined she was ineligible because she voluntarily quit her employment for reasons that did not constitute good cause attributable to Wal-Mart. Tronnes requested a hearing, which was conducted in February 2011. Tronnes, Stull, and Hasier testified at the hearing. The appeals referee affirmed the decision denying Tronnes's claim, finding Tronnes left her employment for a disqualifying reason. Tronnes requested a review of the referee's decision. Job Service denied Tronnes's request because an appeal of the referee's decision is a matter of right only if the referee's decision does not affirm ...

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