Ms. Kern worked for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) from August 2004 to July 1, 2014. In 2012, Ms. Kern received a demotion. Following the demotion she filed a sex-discrimination complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The parties reached a settlement and Ms. Kern was paid $6,000 “to extinguish any liability whatsoever that the MIA has or allegedly has for claimed lost wages.” The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) determined the $6,000 was deductible from any unemployment benefits Ms. Kern was to receive. Ms. Kern appealed and the Unemployment Law Judge (ULJ) agreed with DEED. Ms. Kern appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, for a de novo review.
Minnesota Statute § 268.085, Subd. 3 defines, “back pay” as a payment by an employer to an employee or former employee for lost wages. The Court looked at the plain language of Minnesota Statute § 268.085 and determined the ULJ correctly determined the $6,000 was back pay and covered the period of time immediately following Ms. Kern’s termination of employment.
Most Employers and Employees don’t realize settlements may affect an employee’s unemployment compensation. Clearly, Ms. Kern was expecting to receive unemployment compensation in addition to any settlement reached with MIA. However, receipt of unemployment compensation is not automatic or guaranteed for employees. Employers should know both settlements and severance packages can affect an employee’s unemployment compensation benefits.