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

Subject: Hong Zhang (Hrg. No. 98000504MD) v. Labor and Industry Review Commission and UW-Madison, Case 98-CV-1336 (Wis. Cir. Ct., Dane Co., January 4, 1999)

Digest Codes:  ET 498

The employe worked as a research assistant at the UW-Madison and was also enrolled as a graduate student in the Biochemistry Department. As a condition of her research employment, she was required to make satisfactory progress towards her doctoral degree. The research appointment was specifically to support the pursuit of her degree research. She was registered as a student in a three-credit dissertation program, which did not involve regular classes as such. Mid-semester, the University terminated her participation in the graduate degree program, and her work as a research assistant also ended. She sought UI benefits based on her work as a research assistant but it was denied based on the exception in sec. 108.02(15)(i)(1) for work done by a student enrolled in and regularly attending classes at the institution for whom the work was performed. LIRC affirmed this denial. On appeal, the employe argued that her situation was distinguishable from that of the students in Bachrach v. DILHR, 114 Wis. 2d 131 (Ct. App. 1983), because she was terminated from the graduate program in mid- semester and thus the work she had performed before her termination ended up not counting towards a degree, but only to benefit the employer in the way that conventional employment would.

Held: Affirmed. LIRC properly read Bachrach as standing for the proposition that dissertating graduate students, although not enrolled in classes in the traditional sense, still meet the test of sec. 108.02(15)(i)(1). The only factor distinguishing the employe's situation from Bachrach, is that she was terminated from the graduate program mid-semester. However, the circumstances of her termination are not relevant. It does not change retroactively the fact that while it existed both the University and the employe understood that her primary relationship to the University was as a student and not an employe.

Appealed to the Court of Appeals.  Affirmed in unpublished summary disposition adopting the Circuit Court's opinion, October 12, 1999.

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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