Appeals Court overturns unemployment benefits ban on personal care attendants

The Minnesota Court of Appeals today overturned a Minnesota law that bans people who care for immediate family members as personal care attendants (PCA) from seeking unemployment benefits.

The court ruled in the case of James Weir, who began taking care of his mother in 2010 as a personal care assistant employed through ACCRA Care, Inc.

When she died in 2011, Weir applied for unemployment benefits, but the state Department of Employment and Economic Development denied his claim because the Legislature amended the state’s unemployment-insurance statutes to include “employment of an individual who provides direct care to an immediate family member funded through the personal care assistance program” under employment that is considered “uncovered” by unemployment benefits.

But the court today overturned the ruling, saying it violates Minnesota’s equal protection clause because it treats people differently.

Judge Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks cited a previous Supreme Court ruling that threw out laws providing for different penalties for cocaine possession, depending on whether it was in powder form or crack form. In that case, the court said, there was no real proof that someone possessing crack was more likely to be a street dealer, and the law can’t treat people differently based only on a supposition.

The court said the Legislature amended the law on PCAs in the belief that someone caring for a family member would be more inclined to commit fraud.

Here is what the court said DEED claimed:


… applicants would front-load all of the approved hours during any given six-month period, claiming that they worked extraordinarily high hours during the early weeks or months, and then collect unemployment benefits during the remainder of the time period. . . . These PCAs then collected both wages and unemployment benefits every year, which required the complicity of their family member clients. . . .

While such manipulation would also theoretically be possible in non-family settings, it is substantially less likely. Non-family clients would have no motivation to seek unemployment benefits for unrelated PCAs, nor would they be likely to report that all of their care hours had been used up early in the six-month period, risking that the non-relative PCA would not follow through on the bargain, and continue showing up to provide care even after the hours were reported and the wages were paid.

But the Court of Appeals said there is no proof to DEED’s theory, and said legislators relied purely on assumptions rather than facts. And, the court said, there are already penalties for committing fraud in unemployment claims and there’s no indication they are insufficient.

To deny unemployment benefits to everyone caring for a family member in the belief that they’re more likely to commit fraud is unconstitutional, the judge said.

Here’s the full opinion.

  • georges

    “But the court today overturned the ruling, saying it violates Minnesota’s equal protection clause because it treats people differently.”

    Good. Maybe Judge Jill will throw out the Minnesota Divorce and Custody System, as it certainly violates equal protection, as the female gets everything and the male gets ripped off for everything.

    Such blatant illegal preferential treatment is an abomination under the law and MUST be struck down. Females need to be treated like anyone else. It would be good for their souls.

  • David

    So long as we’re suggesting laws that should be overturned with equal protection clause, laws banning gay marriage.

  • Bob Collins

    I don’t believe today’s ruling has a parallel for Minnesota’s DOMA, because the key element of today’s ruling was that the laws were invoked on supposition.

    DOMA, if you believe its supporters, was based partly on the idea that procreation is at stake in a debate about marriage.

    Now, obviously there’s an element of supposition there but I would think there’s a legal hat to be hung on the biology of procreation.

    Ultimately, if DOMA is overturned, it will undoubtedly be on equal protection arguments. But I don’t think this case will be cited. But maybe. Will need to go to the Supreme Court.

  • Kevin Watterson

    Two things I’ve never understood. One, why we pay family members to take care of their family. I mean, I get the reasons why people say we should, I just don’t understand it. Two, application of equal protection. Just filled out my income taxes and there’s a lot there that isn’t being applied equally, particularly different tax rates on dollars depending on how many dollars were earned before them. I guess earning a lot of dollars makes it okay to treat some of them differently than other people’s dollars. A legal scholar I am obviously not.

  • Bob Collins

    // we pay family members to take care of their family.

    It’s a really interesting question. I’m just presuming that to the extent the state is involved, it has somehow been deemed to be less expensive to provide PCA than to put a person in a nursing home during their final days. But it’s only a guess.

  • Kassie

    It isn’t just final days that we allow family members to be paid for taking care of family members for. My understanding is that it is two fold. 1) It is much cheaper to keep people in their homes, so we allow for them to have home health aids, including family members. Family members make very good attendants because they know the history better. 2) We allow family members because often those people WANT to help their family, and will do it if they get paid or not. It keeps those family members out of poverty and allows them to care for their loved ones.

    I have a friend who cares for her husband who has Muscular Dystrophy and another friend who cares for her sister who is Developmentally Disabled. Neither are at the end of their life and will likely be paid for many, many years to come. I think we have some rules about who exactly can get paid, I don’t think parents or guardians can get paid for taking care of their own kids, but I’m not 100% on that.

  • Darren

    “Maybe Judge Jill will throw out the Minnesota Divorce and Custody System, as it certainly violates equal protection, as the female gets everything and the male gets ripped off for everything.”

    It sounds like someone needs a better lawyer.