Traveling actor didn’t meet criteria to receive CARES benefits, COA affirms

A self-employed traveling actor from New York shouldn’t have received pandemic unemployment assistance in Indiana via the CARES Act, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed, but not because of where her last employer was located.

During 2019 and 2020, Monica C. Brown worked in Indiana, Florida, New Hampshire and New York with various theatrical productions. In January 2020, Brown worked for Marlin Thomas Productions in New York City from mid-January until Feb. 29.

After her employment agreement with the production company ended, Brown began looking for work but was unable to find employment “due to the pandemic closing events … .” Additionally, Brown was “unable and unavailable to work unless it [was by] telework” because she was diagnosed with contact dermatitis, which was aggravated by cleaning products that were being used by businesses to limit the spread of COVID-19.

In May 2020, Brown filed a “combined state claim” for unemployment benefits in New York because she had received income in 2019 and 2020 from multiple states. However, the claim was denied by New York authorities because she was self-employed.

A representative of the New York Department of Labor advised Brown that she should file an unemployment claim in Indiana because Indiana was the only state in which she had received a W-2 for income in 2019. But after Brown filed, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development determined she had insufficient wages to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Later that summer, Brown filed a claim in Indiana for pandemic unemployment assistance. Her claim was initially accepted, and in June 2020 she received benefits in the amount of $8,112 for March 8 through June 20. However, in October 2020, Brown received a letter from the DWD stating that a claims investigator had determined she was ineligible for pandemic unemployment assistance benefits because she “[was] not considered unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work for one of the qualifying reasons” under the CARES Act, and that she “should file [her unemployment benefits claim] in New York because that is where [she was] working when [she] became unemployed.”

After receiving the letter, Brown appealed via an administrative law judge. The judge affirmed the claims investigator’s determination and concluded that she should’ve filed for assistance in New York.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Brown that neither the provisions of the CARES Act nor those of Indiana’s Unemployment Compensation Act required that she file her benefits claim in New York, where she was last employed. However, the court still concluded a reversal was not required as it found other grounds that Brown was not eligible.

“At the hearing before the ALJ, Brown did not present any evidence that she was unemployed or unable to work ‘as a direct result of COVID-19,’” Judge Edward Najam wrote for COA. “… To the contrary, Brown testified that her job in New York ended on February 29 because ‘[t]he assignment ended[.]’

“Brown answered in the affirmative when asked if the cleaning agents prevented her from working as an actor. And Brown told the ALJ that she was being treated by a physician for her contact dermatitis,” Najam continued. “However, she testified that she had not been ordered by a doctor to quarantine and that she had not ‘been exposed to COVID or anything like that.’”

Thus, the COA determined that the administrative law judge’s findings showed Brown didn’t meet any of the 11 relevant criteria of the CARES Act, and that those findings were supported by substantial evidence.

The case is Monica C. Brown v. Review Board of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, 21A-EX-1474.

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