Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission --
Summary of Wisconsin Court Decision relating to Unemployment Insurance

Subject: Thomas J. Witczak (Hearing No. 97401841AP) v. LIRC and Lakeshore Technical College District, No. 98-CV-284 (Wis. Cir. Ct., Outagamie County, October 20, 1998) James T. Bayorgeon Circuit Judge

Digest Codes: ET 481

The employe worked for the employer, a technical college, for about 13 years as an instructor/coordinator in the police science program. The employer's academic year usually starts in late August and ends the middle of the following May. It consists of two 16 week semesters and four weeks of holidays and inservice days, for a total of 36 weeks.

The employe's contract for the 1996-1997  year was for the academic year plus a six week extension or a total of 42 weeks.  In March, 1997 the employe signed a contract for the 1997-1998 academic year, which was for the 36 week academic year and paid a salary that amounted to 86.3% of his salary for the previous academic year.  The 1996-1997 academic year ended on May 19, 1997. The plaintiff filed a claim for unemployment benefits on June 17, 1997. His contract term for the 1996-1997 year ended on June 30, 1997.

The commission found that the employe was a school year employe, had performed services in an instructional capacity for an educational institution in the 1996-1997 school year and had a reasonable assurance of performing such services in the 1997-1998 school year. It therefore concluded that he was not eligible for unemployment benefits for the vacation period between those school years.

Held: Since the decision making authority has been granted to the commission by statute, the court gives the commission's interpretations great deference. The commission's interpretation will be sustained if it is merely reasonable.

It is undisputed that the employe's contract required his services for 42 weeks out of the year. Though this was not the standard 36 week contract, it did not require services on a year round basis. Therefore the commission's determination, that the employe was a school year employe, has a rational basis.

The supreme court's decision in Leissring, 115 Wis. 2d 475 (1983), requires that the terms and conditions of employment for the following year be reasonably similar. The department has established an 80% standard for reasonable similarity. The employe's contract for the following year was 85.7% in terms of duration and 86.3% in terms of salary. The commission's determination that the employe was reasonably assured of similar employment has a rational basis. Decision affirmed.

Please note that this is a summary prepared by staff of the commission, not a verbatim reproduction of the court decision.

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