Laurie Petersen Recognized by the Wisconsin Law Journal as a 2017 Women in the Law Honoree

Lindner & Marsack, S.C. is pleased to offer enthusiastic congratulations to Laurie Petersen, who is being recognized by the Wisconsin Law Journal as a 2017 Women in the Law honoree. Petersen, who has been with the firm since 1990, is a shareholder and member of its Board of Directors. Her extensive labor and employment law experience covers a broad spectrum of matters for diverse business organizations in a range of industries. She frequently lectures on critical employment law topics for a variety of human resource and training organizations, and holds an adjunct faculty position at Marquette University Law School where she teaches employment discrimination law.

“For 27 years, Laurie Petersen has been an integral member of our dedicated team of attorneys,” said Firm President Thomas Mackenzie. “Our clients are fortunate to have her at their side during litigation but, perhaps more importantly, she has dedicated her career to helping clients create proactive, cost-effective legal strategies to achieve their business goals while minimizing the risk of litigation.”

The 14th annual Women in the Law recognition event will take place Wednesday, June 7, at Milwaukee’s Discovery World. For more information about the event and a full list of this year’s honorees, visit http://wislawjournal.com/women-in-the-law/.

WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT DEFINES “SUBSTANTIAL FAULT” STANDARD FOR UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE AND WORKER’S COMPENSATION MATTERS

By:  Daniel Finerty

On May 4, 2017, the Wisconsin Supreme Court released a long–awaited decision in Lela Operton vs. LIRC, 2017 WI 46, the first Supreme Court interpretation of Wisconsin’s “substantial fault” standard. Operton held that, as a matter of law, the employee’s eight accidental or careless cash-handling errors over the course of 80,000 cash-handling transactions during 21 months of employment were inadvertent and, therefore, met an exemption to the “substantial fault” standard. The substantial fault standard is used in unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation disputes.

Background

Operton worked for Walgreens in Madison until March 24, 2014, when she was terminated for the last of 8 separate errors when she failed to check identification during a customer’s $399.27 credit card purchase in violation of Walgreen’s policy. Because the credit card was later determined to have been stolen, Walgreens was out the $399.27. This error Operton made was not unlike the others she made during her 21 months of employment:

  • In October 2012, Operton received a verbal warning after she accepted a Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) check for $8.67 when the check should have been for $5.78, a mistake which costs Walgreens $2.89.
  • In February 2013, Operton received a written warning for two errors. First, she accepted a WIC check for $14.46, but did not get the customer’s signature on the check. In March 2013, she gave a $16.73 check back to a customer. Walgreens suffered losses of $14.46 and $16.73 as a result of these errors because it was unable to process these two checks.
  • A few months later, Operton took a WIC check for $27.63 before the date on which it was valid. Walgreens was unable to process the check, and Operton received a final written warning.
  • On January 1, 2014, Operton returned a WIC check for $84.95 back to a customer that the customer had tried to use to make a purchase, resulting in a loss of $84.95. Walgreens gave Operton the first of two final written warnings.
  • On January 29, 2014, Operton received the second final written warning (any additional cash-handling errors would lead to her termination) and served a two-day suspension after she accepted a check for $6.17 even though it was written for $6.00, thereby causing another loss. In addition, a customer attempted to pay for $9.26 worth of items but left the store without completing the debit transaction, which caused a second monetary loss that day of $9.26.

After hearing, an Appeal Tribunal found that Operton was disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits because she was terminated for substantial fault, a finding the Labor and Industry Review Commission (Commission) affirmed, the Court of Appeals reversed the Commission’s finding. The Supreme Court accepted review.

Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the Commission had not provided a reasonable construction to support its conclusion that Operton was disqualified for “substantial fault,” defined by Wis. Stat. §108.04(5g) as:

For purposes of this paragraph, “substantial fault” includes those acts or omissions of an employee over which the employee exercised reasonable control and which violate reasonable requirements of the employee’s employer but does not include any of the following:

  1. One or more minor infractions of rules unless an infraction is repeated after the employer warns the employee about the infraction.
  2. One or more inadvertent errors made by the employee.
  3. Any failure of the employee to perform work because of insufficient skill, ability, or equipment.

While the Court conceded substantial fault existed because Operton exercised reasonable control over the cash handling transactions at issue and that Walgreens reasonably required her to handle such transactions, it ultimately found that the case turned on the Commission’s failure to examine the question of whether Operton’s errors constituted “one or more inadvertent errors,” which were exempt from the definition of substantial fault under (2.) above.

Examining that question, the Court found that Operton’s errors were not so egregious to warrant a conclusion that she behaved recklessly or intentionally but, instead, that her errors were inadvertent. While there was no testimony by Operton cited in support of its conclusion, the Court cited the length of her employment, the 80,000 transactions she processed, the period of time between errors and the fact that Operton was not making the same errors (even though they were similar in nature) in concluding the errors were inadvertent and, thus, outside of the definition of substantial fault. As further support for its conclusion, the Court cited the Commission’s finding that Operton had not been terminated for misconduct i.e., that there was no evidence Operton willfully disregarded her employer’s interests nor was she so careless or negligent as to be guilty of misconduct. Ultimately, the Court held that Operton’s 8 accidental or careless errors were, as a matter of law, “inadvertent errors” because the employee made these errors during a 21-month period during which she processed 80,000 cash-handling transactions and, therefore, substantial fault did not exists to deny benefits.

Analysis

The Court’s analysis to reach this result is rather interesting, especially considering its impact going forward. First, as a result of the Court’s numerical analysis, one must wonder at what level do employee errors cease being inadvertent and whether the answer to this question will have to remain for the next substantial fault dispute on which the Supreme Court grants review.

Second, the Court indication that an employer has the burden to establish substantial fault, while perhaps accurate, failed to allocate the burden of proof as to the substantial fault exceptions. In doing so, the Court’s opinion suggests that employers are responsible for proving a negative i.e., that the employee’s errors were not inadvertent. While proving this negative may be challenging, employers would be wise to gather statements and other evidence to show that an employee’s errors were not an accidental oversight or the result of carelessness will be critical going forward.

Third, with regard to the specific exception at Wis. Stat. §108.04(5g)(a)2, the Court held that, while discipline following errors may be dispositive in the application of Wis. Stat. §108.04(5g)(a)1 (“one or more minor infractions of rules [are not substantial fault] unless an infraction is repeated after the employer warns the employee about the infraction), an employer’s warning is not dispositive of whether the error was inadvertent. As such, while a prior warning may be relevant to this question, an employee who is warned about an inadvertent error is not necessarily terminated for substantial fault even if the employee subsequently makes another error, even the exact same error, for which s/he is terminated. As such, prior discipline will not carry the day on the “inadvertence” exception and employers must be prepared to address suggestions that an employee acted inadvertently by, again, showing any errors were not an accident or as a result of carelessness.

Conclusion

Operton shows that greater care may be required prior to hearing in order to determine whether any of the substantial fault exceptions may apply and what evidence can be presented to counter their application. It is likely that, going forward, Administrative Law Judges will question all parties about inadvertence, intent and related issues and employee-side counsel will be prepared to show inadvertence and highlight any facts which show a lack of any intent. Employers must be prepared to meet this evidence during an Appeal Tribunal hearing with preparation, testimony and documentary evidence.

If you have questions about Operton or unemployment insurance disputes or hearings, please contact Daniel Finerty or your Lindner & Marsack attorney at 414-273-3910.

Title VII Now Covers Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

By:  Kristofor L. Hanson

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  On April 4, 2017, the Chicago-based court, which presides over federal matters in the states of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, became the first federal court of appeals to determine that the protections of Title VII extend to sexual orientation.

The case, Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, No. 15-1720 (7th Cir. Apr. 4, 2017), was brought by Kimberly Hively, a lesbian and a part-time adjunct instructor at Ivy Tech, a public institution in Indiana with thirty campuses statewide. She alleged that the college refused to hire her for six full-time positions she sought over five years and then refused to renew her part-time contract because of her sexual orientation.

In its decision, the court held that consideration of sexual orientation centers on the issue of gender and sexual stereotypes, meaning that an employer who takes an adverse action against a homosexual employee is taking an action based upon that employee’s gender or sex, which are covered by Title VII, and the employee’s failure to conform to a particular gender stereotype.  Hively argued, and the court agreed, that had Hively been a man married to, dating, or cohabitating with a woman, Ivy Tech would not have taken the actions it did.  The court stated that while this decision may appear to write into the law the term sexual orientation, it actually does no such thing as the law already protects an individual from discrimination on the basis of sex, which cannot be separated from sexual orientation.

This decision, issued following oral argument before the full panel of Seventh Circuit judges, overruled the Circuit’s previous decision in the same case and the lower court’s decision which granted Ivy Tech’s motion to dismiss, both of which held that Title VII did not cover sexual orientation.  This decision means that Hively now has the opportunity to litigate her claims in the district court.  Whether she ultimately will prevail is to be determined, but now, in the Seventh Circuit at least, it is clear that she has a viable claim to litigate under federal law.

Twenty-two states have laws that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, including Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.  Employers in these states, therefore, have already been prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation.  The Seventh Circuit’s extension of federal protection to sexual orientation creates additional means for employees claiming such discrimination to seek remedies before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in federal court.  In federal court, compensatory (i.e. emotional distress) and punitive damages may be available to plaintiffs where before state agencies such damages are generally unavailable.  Therefore, if this decision changes anything for those in states already prohibiting discrimination, it potentially increases the risk for employers who run afoul of the law.

Even though many employers have known that sexual orientation is a protected class in their states, this decision serves as a reminder that employers should make sure their handbooks, policies, and employee and supervisor training include reference to this protected class.

Register Now! Annual Compliance/Best Practices Seminar

WHEN: May 11, 2017

8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

WHERE: Sheraton Milwaukee Brookfield Hotel

375 South Moorland Road

Brookfield, WI

Registration and a continental breakfast will be served beginning at 7:30 a.m.  Click here to register.

This COMPLIMENTARY half-day event will address the latest labor and employment topics impacting employers including:

  • Annual Employment Law Update (including recent developments in immigration, the Affordable Care Act and white collar overtime regulations)
  • Social Media Pitfalls and Best Practices
  • FMLA Update – A Best Practices Review
  • Drafting, Enforcing and Litigating Confidentiality, Non-Solicitation and Non-Competition Agreements
  • Navigating the ADA, FMLA and Worker’s Compensation

LINDNER & MARSACK, S.C. NAMES DANIEL FINERTY AS EQUITY PARTNER

Daniel-FinertyWe are pleased to announce the advancement of Daniel Finerty to Equity Partner.

Finerty joined Lindner & Marsack in 2012 and concentrates his legal practice on representing and counseling clients – including Wisconsin counties, cities, school districts, Native American tribes, tribally-owned businesses and private sector employers – in labor and employment litigation and compliance matters in front of administrative agencies; in federal, state and tribal courts; and in labor arbitration. He works across a broad spectrum of industries including senior living, healthcare, manufacturing, food manufacturing, hospitality, retail, transportation, construction, commercial laundry, dry cleaning and others.

“Since Dan joined our team, he has consistently and determinedly worked to provide an outstanding, cost-effective platform for both new and existing clients and their insurance partners to address their toughest legal challenges,” said Thomas Mackenzie, Firm President. “Clients trust and appreciate his commitment to helping manage their workforce and continued growth while always keeping an eye on costs.”

Finerty has a great deal of experience defending senior living providers in Wisconsin Health Care Worker Protection Act retaliation claims; Wisconsin Fair Employment Act discrimination, retaliation and harassment claims; unreasonable refusal to rehire worker’s compensation claims; and other claims that follow termination of an employee for a violation of resident rights’ policies and other misconduct. He has also handled hundreds of employment claims involving Employment Practice Liability Insurance (EPLI) as panel counsel as well as at his clients’ request with a carrier’s permission and has defended Native American communities facing employment-related claims by current and former employees in tribal courts.

Rated AV Preeminent by Martindale Hubbell and recognized among the Best Lawyers in America in Appellate Practice since 2010, Finerty has also been regularly recognized by Wisconsin Super Lawyers magazine as a five-time “Rising Star” earlier in his career and as a “Super Lawyer” each year since 2014.

“I’m proud to be an integral member of this team and also to play an important role in the continued success of my clients, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for their ongoing support, collaboration and confidence,” said Finerty.

GOVERNOR WALKER PROPOSES TO ELIMINATE THE LABOR AND INDUSTRY REVIEW COMMISSION

By:  Jonathan T. Swain

February 13, 2017

In his recently published proposed biennial budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, Governor Walker has proposed to eliminate the Wisconsin Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC).  LIRC is an independent three member commission appointed by the Governor that currently handles all appeals of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions for unemployment compensation cases, worker compensation claims, as well as state fair labor standards cases and fair employment cases in the Equal Rights Division and public accommodation cases.  LIRC would be phased out over the next three fiscal years.

Presently, LIRC has the authority to affirm, overturn and remand ALJ decision in these areas.  LIRC decisions are appealable to the State’s circuit courts.

Under Governor Walker’s proposal, Worker Compensation ALJ decisions will be reviewable by the State Department of Administration, while jobless claims and Equal Right Division decisions will be Agency administrators.  In his budget statement, Governor Walker stated that the proposed elimination of LIRC will eliminate “an unnecessary layer of government” and will make this second layer of review decisions occur much more quickly.

Of course, this is a proposed budget and, as such, is subject to negotiation with the legislature and subsequent amendment.  Further, stakeholders in the business, labor and legal community have yet to weigh-in on the Governor’s proposal.  As this issue advances, we will keep you up to date and informed.

Employers Must Now Use New Form I-9

NEW I-9 FORM AVAILABLE: As of January 22, 2017, employers must use the NEW version of the Form I-9 — whether for new employees or for the reverification of expiring authorizations for existing employees. Prior versions of the Form I-9 should no longer be used. Employers who do not use the new Form I-9 are considered to be in technical violation of the law and can expose themselves to penalties for each occasion they have failed to use the new form.

If you have questions or concerns about I-9 compliance or need assistance in conducting an I-9 compliance audit, please contact Sally Piefer at spiefer@lindner-marsack.com or at 414.226.4818, or any other attorney you have been working with here at Lindner & Marsack, S.C.

2017 Worker’s Compensation Gamble

Lindner & Marsack’s worker’s compensation defense practice is well recognized as an industry leader in providing work injury defense services to many of Wisconsin’s largest employers and insurance carriers.

Doug Feldman heads the Firm’s highly regarded work injury defense team and is a founding Board Member and current President of Kids’ Chance of Wisconsin.  Kids’ Chance is a non-profit organization that provides college scholarships to children of seriously injured workers in Wisconsin.

Kids’ Chance of Wisconsin is presenting a complimentary half-day worker’s compensation seminar on March 9, 2017 at Potawatomi Hotel and Casino, followed by a networking cocktail hour and raffle.  This year’s presenters include many of the top administrators from the Worker’s Compensation Division and Labor & Industry Review Commission.  Funds raised at the event will directly support the Kids’ Chance mission of providing financial support, in the form of scholarships, to children of parents who have been seriously injured at work.

If you are interested in attending this event, click Kids’ Chance of WI – Here’s The Deal Seminar – March 9, 2017 for more information.

Lindner & Marsack owes much of its success to its good friends and clients in Wisconsin and is proud to support this worthy endeavor and give back to the community in such a meaningful way. We hope you will consider joining us for this educational opportunity.

2016 Super Lawyers

Lindner & Marsack, S.C. proudly announces that seven of its attorneys have been acknowledged as 2016 Super Lawyers or Rising Stars by Super Lawyers Magazine.  “We appreciate the support of the legal community and our clients in acknowledging the quality of the legal services we provide,” said Thomas W. Mackenzie, President of the firm.  He added, “the Super Lawyers designation is a way to recognize the accomplishments of attorneys who work hard every day to find solutions to the problems confronting employers.  We have a great team.”

The individual attorneys recognized as Super Lawyers in 2016 included Douglas Feldman, Daniel Finerty, Thomas Mackenzie, Gary Marsack, Jonathan Swain and Oyvind Wistrom.  The list of Rising Stars (under 40 years old or less than ten years of practice) included Chelsie Springstead.

TEXAS COURT ISSUES NATIONWIDE INJUNCTION, BARRING THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR’S PERSUADER RULE

By: Thomas W. Mackenzie

Yesterday (November 16, 2016), the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Persuader Advice Exemption Rule.”  As we have reported in previous E-Alerts, this rule would have required employers and their attorneys to report expenditures incurred in resisting union organizing efforts.  Historically, reporting was only required when a law firm engaged in active persuader activity such as giving a speech to the employer’s employees in a union organizing drive.  Under the new rules, an attorney would be required to report if he or she engaged in speech writing, letter drafting or supervisor training. The rule was unquestionably designed to discourage law firms from representing employers in union organizing campaigns.

In arguing that the law was unlawful, the plaintiffs claimed, in part, that the reporting requirements invaded the attorney-client privilege.  The Texas judge issued a preliminary injunction on June 27, 2016.  The injunction was made permanent by the decision issued yesterday.  The decision will unquestionably be appealed.  However, it is unlikely that a decision at the appellate level will be issued before President Elect Trump takes office and a new Secretary of Labor is appointed.

The new requirement was challenged in multiple court cases by business groups and, in a case currently pending in Minnesota, by the Worklaw Network, an association of management-side labor and employment law firms of which Lindner & Marsack is the Wisconsin representative.

Although it is impossible these days to predict anything with certainty, the so-called “Persuader Rule” would appear to be in critical condition and unlikely to be enforced in the foreseeable future, if ever.