In Minnesota, The Courts Here Still Respect the (ex) College Dean

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: MN unemployment, policy-making position exemption.

Henry H. Rubin v. Winona State University. MN unemployment, policy-making position exemption

According to Merle Haggard, the kids in Muskogee still respect the college dean. But in Minnesota, the ex-college dean is eligible for unemployment benefits.

Henry R. Rubin worked for Winona State University from July 2010 until December 2012, and earned a salary of $130,000. He started out as the Dean of the College of Education. In May 2012, the interim president of the University, Connie Gores, ended his assignment as dean and reassigned him to the position of "Senior Research Associate." His job duties for this new position were to complete college, grant, and partnership documentation, do research, and do written reports as assigned by the academic administrators. He continued to draw the same six-figure salary in the new position.

When his employment came to an end about seven months later, he filed for unemployment benefits. This claim was denied, since both the unemployment department and the unemployment law judge determined that even though his title had changed in May, he had been hired as Dean, and his duties continued to be a major policy-making or advisory position. As such, he was not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Dissatisfied with this outcome, he brought an appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He made the appeal without benefit of an attorney, and the court's opinion indicates that he now resides in Rochester, New York. The Court of Appeals agreed with his argument, reversed the Department of Employment and Economic Development, and found that he was eligible for benefits.

The Court of Appeals first noted that a Dean in the Minnesota University system is automatically excluded from receiving unemployment benefits, since this position is specifically listed in Minnesota Statute 43A.08, subd. 1(9) as not being eligible.

But Rubin argued that he wasn't employed as Dean when his employment ended. Instead, he was a Senior Research Associate, which is not a major policy-making or advisory position. The college's chief human-resources officer, Lori Reed, had testified that even though his job duties and title changed, he had, in fact, remained the Dean. But the Court held that this testimony did not change the result. The Court took a hard look at the letter assigning Rubin to his new job duties, and it made clear that his tenure as Dean ended in May.

In short, the evidence did not support the position that the new job was a major policy position. He had no responsibilities to formulate, recommend, or advise about plans. His new job description had very narrow goals, and he worked at the direction of an administrator.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals held that Rubin was entitled to unemployment benefits.

No. A13-0871, ___ N.W.2d ___ (Minn. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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