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Professor entitled to unemployment benefits

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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University professors who do not have their fixed-termed contracts renewed after the contract expires are entitled to unemployment benefits because their resulting unemployment isn't voluntary, ruled the Indiana Supreme Court Tuesday.

In Indiana State University v. William C. LaFief, et al., No. 93S02-0801-EX-17, William LaFief was hired by Indiana State University as an assistant professor for one academic year and was reappointed for the following year. After his second academic year at the university, LaFief was told by the school he would not be reappointed for a third year.

LaFief applied for unemployment benefits. An administrative law judge ruled he wasn't entitled to benefits because he wasn't "discharged" because his employment ended at the end of his contract term. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development Review Board reversed the ALJ's decision; the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the Review Board and agreed with the ALJ that LaFief wasn't discharged and didn't qualify for unemployment.

A split Supreme Court agreed with the Review Board, ruling LaFief didn't become voluntarily unemployed at the expiration of his contract term. The point of an employment contract is to require the parties continue the employment during the contract's term, and being a contract employee doesn't waive the right to receive unemployment benefits. To hold otherwise would encourage employers to require these fixed-term employment contracts as a way to avoid unemployment compensation liability, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

"The fact that LaFief had warning that his employment could terminate upon the contract's expiration does not change the fact that at the end of the year he became unemployed. The termination of his employment was no more voluntary than the termination of employment of an employee at will, who is presumably on notice that his employment could terminate at any time," he wrote.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Shepard made a note that the ruling in this case doesn't alter the general rule that employees who contractually agree to mandatory vacation periods or temporary shutdowns - such as teachers - aren't eligible for unemployment benefits as long as they have reasonable assurance they will continue to be employed after the mandatory vacation or temporary shutdown period ends.

In a dissent - with which Justice Robert Rucker concurred - Justice Brent Dickson wrote he would reverse the Review Board's decision because LaFief had no employment or leave from which to be discharged. In entering a fixed-term contract, he voluntarily agreed that his employment would end at the conclusion of the academic year. LaFief wasn't discharged nor did he leave his job during the contract-term, so he wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits.

"The professor expressly contracted that his employment would expire at the end of its fixed term. He is thus responsible and accountable for his subsequent unemployment," Justice Dickson wrote.
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  1. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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