Zambrano v. Reinert
291 F.3d 964 (7th Cir. 2002)

Facts:

  • Zambrano, a Texas resident, provided seasonal labor for vegetable processor Seneca Foods, Inc. in Wisconsin from June 11 to October 7, 1999.
  • He filed for unemployment but was denied because of the “Cannery Rule,” a Wisconsin statute:
    • For a seasonal fruit or vegetable processing worker to meet the definition of “employment,” and thus be eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits, Zambrano must have

(1) been employed with the processor outside the “active processing season”;
(2) been separately eligible under Wis. Stat. § 108.04(4)(a); or
(3) earned over $200 in another job during the time period outlined in the statute.

  • He then filed this suit alleging that the Cannery Rule was in conflict with two federal statutes – the “When Due Clause” of the Social Security Act, and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) –   and also violated the Equal Protection Clause.

History:
The district court granted summary judgment for the defendant.

Issue:
Did the Cannery Rule violate the federal statutes or the Equal Protection Clause?

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:
(1) When Due Clause.

  • Basically, the When Due Clause is based timeliness. The state should make payments to such individuals at the earliest stage that is administratively feasible. Don’t delay.
  • Here, because the Cannery Rule focused on eligibility – i.e., the “who” and not the “when” – it is beyond the reach of the When Due Clause. It’s not like they were slow paying – it was never due!

(2) FUTA.

  • For the Secretary of Labor to approve a state’s unemployment compensation law (as the Secretary of Labor did in this case), he must find, among other things, that the state law does not operate to cancel “wage credits” or reduce “benefit rights” for reasons other than fraud or misconduct.
  • Here, Zambrano never had any wage credits or benefit rights to cancel in the first place.

(3) Equal Protection.

  • Because seasonal fruit and vegetable workers are not a suspect classification, they were examined here under the rational basis test.
  • Here, the Secretary asserted that Wisconsin’s interest in treating seasonal fruit and vegetable processing workers differently is to ensure that workers receiving unemployment compensation benefits are firmly committed to the Wisconsin labor market.
  • Under the Cannery Rule, individuals working in seasonal fruit and vegetable processing could show a commitment to the Wisconsin labor market if they earned a mere $200 in unrelated employment in the year prior to the quarter in which they began working for seasonal processors.
  • Thus, the Other Employment provision of the Cannery Rule had a rational basis for its classification.