Whittlesey v. LIRC (Unemployment Insurance)

In Whittlesey v. LIRC (2018AP2164), the Court of Appeals District IV held that the plaintiff was eligible for unemployment benefits because he had good cause to terminate his employment.

Plaintiff Whittlesey worked for a restaurant for approximately two years before he terminated his employment because he “believed the work environment was hostile and insensitive to his race.” Incidents described in Whittlesey’s testimony included other employees using offensive racist language toward him. Whittlesey believed management did not sufficiently address these incidents, so he eventually terminated his employment and filed for unemployment benefits.

Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance statutes generally prohibit employees who voluntarily terminate their employment from receiving benefits. However, Wis. Stat. § 108.04(7)(b) does provide an exception if the employee terminates his employment “with good cause attributable to the employing unit.”

The appeals court determined that Whittlesey had good cause attributable to his employer to terminate his employment, so he was eligible for unemployment insurance under Wis. Stat. § 108.04(7)(b). Whittlesey did not need to prove that had pursued reasonable alternatives short of quitting to resolve his employment issue. Furthermore, some of the racist remarks were attributable to the employer; the employer failed to specifically prohibit the offensive language; and the incidents were not effectively addressed by the employer. The cumulative effects of racist remarks by employees at the restaurant were good cause for Whittlesey to terminate his employment; therefore, Whittlesey was entitled to unemployment benefits.