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Zambrano v. Reinert

May 29, 2002

RENE ZAMBRANO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JENNIFER REINERT, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 01-C-35-S--John C. Shabaz, Judge.

Before Harlington Wood, Jr., Easterbrook, and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge

Argued November 13, 2001

After being denied unemployment compensation benefits in accordance with Wis. Stat. sec. 108.02(15)(k)(14) (the "Cannery Rule"), Rene Zambrano filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983, alleging that the Cannery Rule was in conflict with two federal statutes and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court upheld the validity of the Cannery Rule, and we affirm.

I. Background

Under Wisconsin's unemployment compensation scheme, "base period" wages count towards unemployment compensation eligibility. See Wis. Stat. sec.sec. 108.02(4) & 108.06. Base period wages include, inter alia, wages earned during employment, see id. at sec. 108.02(4m), and "employment" is defined as "any service . . . performed by an individual for pay." Id. at sec. 108.02(15)(a). However, in applying the Cannery Rule, the definition of employment does not include services

[b]y an individual for an employer which is engaged in the processing of fresh perishable fruits or vegetables within a given calendar year if the individual has been employed by the employer solely within the activeprocessing season or seasons, as determined by the department [of workforce development], of the establishment in which the individual has been employed by the employer, and the individual's base period wages with the employer are less than the wages required to start a benefit year under s. 108.04(4)(a), unless the individual was paid wages of $200 or more for services performed in employment or other work covered by the unemployment insurance law of any state or the federal government, other than work performed for the processing employer, during the 4 most recently completed quarters preceding the individual's first week of employment by the processing employer within that year. Id. at sec. 108.02(15)(k)(14).

In other words, for a seasonal fruit or vegetable processing worker to meet the definition of "employment," and thus be eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits, he must have 1) been employed with the processor outside the "active processing season"; 2) been separately eligible under Wis. Stat. sec. 108.04(4)(a); or 3) earned over $200 in another job during the time period outlined in the statute. See id. at sec. 108.02(15)(k)(14).

Zambrano, a Texas resident, provided seasonal labor for vegetable processor Seneca Foods, Inc. in Mayville, Wisconsin from June 11 to October 7, 1999, earning $10,290.98. On April 4, 2000, Zambrano filed for unemployment compensation in Wisconsin. Because Zambrano was employed by Seneca, a processor of vegetables, the Department for Workforce Development (the "DWD") noted that his claim for unemployment compensation fell under the purview of the Cannery Rule and thus found that Zambrano was ineligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits.

To be eligible for benefits, Zambrano had to meet one of three conditions listed in the Cannery Rule: First, Zambrano would have had to have worked for Seneca outside the active processing season. See id. at sec. 108.02(15)(k)(14). Zambrano concedes that he did not, and therefore this provision is irrelevant to our present review.

Second, he would have been eligible if his "base period wages" with Seneca were equal to or greater than the wages described in Wis. Stat. sec. 108.04(4)(a). See id. at sec. 108.02(15)(k)(14). To start a benefit year under that section, an applicant's base period wages must, among other things, be equal to at least four times his weekly benefit rate "in one or more quarters outside of the quarter within the claimant's base period in which the claimant has the highest base period wages." Id. at sec. 108.04(4)(a). In this case, as Zambrano concedes, the amount of wages that he earned during this time period was $1,159.81, and this amount was less than four times his weekly benefit rate of $305 (i.e., 4 x $305 = $1,200). Thus, the DWD concluded that Zambrano did not meet the second condition to be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits under the Cannery Rule.

Finally, Zambrano would have been entitled to receive benefits had he earned more than $200 from an employer other than Seneca during the four most recently completed quarters preceding his first week of work at Seneca. See id. at sec. 108.02(15)(k)(14) (the "Other Employment" provision). Zambrano's only income from Wisconsin employers other than Seneca that year was $1,250 that he earned for work performed for Lifestyle Staffing during May and June 1999. However, because these wages were earned in the same quarter as the start of his employment with Seneca, and not in the preceding quarter, the DWD concluded that Zambrano was not eligible to receive benefits because he did not meet the requirements of the Other Employment provision of the Cannery Rule. See id.

As a result of this ruling, Zambrano brought suit against Jennifer Reinert in her official capacity as Secretary of the DWD, alleging that the Cannery Rule ran afoul of two federal statutes and that it violated principles of equal protection. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ...


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