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Supreme Court upholds unemployment benefits for Chrysler workers

January 19, 2012

The Indiana Supreme Court has affirmed the decision by the Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development granting unemployment benefits to Chrysler workers who took voluntary buyouts.

In 2008 and 2009, Chrysler offered a buyout program – the Enhanced Voluntary Termination of Employment Program – to employees in Kokomo. Employees who participated in the EVTEP relinquished all recall and seniority rights with Chrysler. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development then terminated unemployment benefits for those employees who had been on layoff prior to accepting the EVTEP, and it denied unemployment benefits to the employees who had been actively working for Chrysler prior to accepting EVTEP. Both groups appealed to an administrative law judge, who determined that those employees who were on indefinite layoff before accepting the EVTEP were entitled to continued unemployment benefits, but the employees who were actively working or on temporary layoff were not. Chrysler and the employees then appealed to DWD’s review board, which found that all employees who accepted the buyout were eligible for benefits under Indiana Code 22-4-14-1(c) despite a lack of good cause for leaving their job.

Subsection (c) said that “[e]xcept as provided in IC 22-4-5-1, a person who: (1) accepts an offer of payment or other compensation offered by an employer to avert or lessen the effect of a layoff or plant closure; and (2) otherwise meets the eligibility requirements established by this article; is entitled to receive benefits in the same amounts, under the same terms, and subject to the same conditions as any other unemployed person.”

Even though the provision at issue has been repealed, the justices ruled on the case because it’s a matter of real consequence to the parties involved, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard for the unanimous court in Chrysler Group, LLC v. Review Board of the Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development and T.A., et al., No. 93S02-1109-EX-565.

The justices agreed with Chrysler’s argument that I.C. 22-4-14-1(c) requires a desire to avert or lessen the effect of a layoff or plant closure be viewed from the perspective of the employer. But the justices didn’t accept Chrysler’s argument that it hadn’t explicitly announced the particular plant closure or layoffs, so the provision at issue shouldn’t apply.

The high court didn’t see why such an explicit declaration of the employer’s intent is necessary under the provision, and “Chrysler’s approach would undermine these humanitarian purposes, allowing a disingenuous employer to side-step its responsibilities under the Act by simply choosing its words carefully to avoid an explicit declaration of intent,” wrote the chief justice.

The justices also found no reason that Chrysler must have intended to close the plants where the employees worked or lay off additional people at those plants for the provision to apply. The EVTEP did ultimately avert or lessen the effects of the layoffs, and there is substantial evidence that Chrysler intended for the program to lessen the effect of the layoffs or plant closure.  

 

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