Bartram wins unemployment case against city

Staff report

     Jones County District Court upheld Employment Appeal Bond’s (EAB) decision to award former Monticello Parks and Recreation Director Tami Bartram unemployment compensation.

     The court proceedings took place Feb. 8.

     The court concluded the City of Monticello offered Bartram the Parks and Rec superintendent position prior to Bartram filing for unemployment benefits. The offer was made outside of the employment benefit year.

     Bartram has been receiving unemployment benefits from the city since March 1, 2017, when her employment ended. She worked for the City of Monticello as Parks and Rec director since May 27, 2003. District Court documents states that Bartram’s employment ended when “the city decided to eliminate her position and instead create two new positions,” a director and a superintendent.

     The city argued that Bartram voluntarily quit her job after she was offered the superintendent job. Bartram was asked to apply for the new position she desired to work. In January 2017, the city hired a new Parks and Rec director (slated to begin his job March 1), and offered Bartram the superintendent job at the same pay and benefits she previous received as the department’s director. The superintendent’s job would have also included similar job duties that Bartram did in the past. The court document states that Bartram turned down that position.

     Despite Bartram providing notice that she would vacate her position at the end of February 2017, records indicate she did not initiate the termination, “and did not desire to leave her employment.”

     Due to Bartram’s job no longer available as of March 1, 2017, the administrative law judge found that she was laid off “due to lack of work.” This is when Bartram’s unemployment benefits kicked in.

     Against the EAB’s conclusion, the city argued that Bartram be disqualified from unemployment because of her refusal to work, not that she was laid off. The city states her claim was not supported by substantial evidence. “The city contends that it is not disputed that Bartram was offered an opportunity to continue employment with the city ‘in a substantially similar position, at the identical wages, benefits, and seniority she currently enjoyed’ and that she turned down that offer multiple times. The city argues that by refusing to accept the offer of superintendent, which the city contends was suitable work, Bartram chose to end the employer-employee relationship and voluntarily quit without good cause.”

     However, the EAB argued that the city couldn’t produce evidence that Bartram quit. “This was a job elimination ‘by name and by effect’ and that turning down other jobs should not be considered a ‘quit.’

     “Moreover, the EAB contends that the refusal-to-work disqualification is not applicable because the offer of employment must be made after Bartram filed for benefits.”

     In his information to the Monticello City Council, City Administrator Doug Herman stated he believed the court’s decision was 100 percent incorrect.

     At this point, the city could let the court’s decision remain or appeal it to the State Supreme Court. If the city wins at that level, the city’s unemployment account would be credited for the unemployment paid out that should not have been paid to Bartram. The city has a 30-day appeal window (mid-March).



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