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

Subject:  Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development v. Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission, Nikki L. Wallenkamp and Arby's Restaurants, Case No. 14-CV-6402 (Wis. Cir. Ct., Milwaukee Co., February 23, 2015)

Digest Codes: BR 317 BR 330

While claiming UI benefits for certain weeks the claimant answered “no” to questions as to whether she had worked in those weeks despite the fact that she had worked in those weeks. She also answered “no” to a question as to whether she had quit a job although she had voluntarily quit a job, and she indicated that she would not be receiving vacation pay for one week although she received vacation pay in one week. DWD issued a determination that the claimant had engaged in concealment for which she was subject to a reduction in future benefits and a concealment penalty. An Appeal Tribunal affirmed the determination of concealment, declining to credit the claimant's explanations for her answers. On appeal, LIRC reversed, disagreeing with the Appeal Tribunal's credibility assessment and finding the claimant had been confused and made an honest mistake in answering the questions. DWD appealed to circuit court.

Held:  LIRC's decision is affirmed.

Questions concerning intent generally present issues of fact. There is substantial and credible evidence that Wallenkamp did not understand the UI process and that she lacked intent to mislead or defraud. Many of the factual determinations in this case are heavily dependent on credibility determinations. LIRC is the final arbiter of weight and credibility and “the court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the commission as to the weight and credibility of the evidence on any finding of fact.”

The court concludes that LIRC's interpretation and application of the statutes concerning concealment is entitled to great weight deference.

DWD argued that LIRC improperly interpreted and applied the statutory definition of “conceal” by augmenting the statute by adding a requirement that DWD prove an intent or design to receive benefits to which the claimant knows he or she is not entitled. LIRC argued that it reasonably concluded that mistakes and misunderstandings are not intentional for purposes of the statute. The application of the statute to the facts presents a question of law. The court concludes that LIRC's interpretation of the statute is reasonable and not contrary to the statute's plain language. Further, by finding that the claimant did not intentionally mislead or defraud, LIRC necessarily found that she did not act to receive benefits to which she knew she was not entitled. LIRC's interpretation does not improperly augment the statutory definition of conceal. Instead, the determination of whether a claimant acted to receive benefits to which he knew he was not entitled is subsumed by the determination that the claimant did not intend to mislead or defraud.

NOTE: Appealed to the Court of Appeals -- Affirmed February 2, 2016.  [Court of Appeals Decision Summary].

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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