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Hanson School loses fight with former teacher

ALEXANDRIA -- The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled a former Hanson School District music teacher was entitled to unemployment benefits after she left her position, because the district reduced it to part-time and cut her pay by 25 percent.

ALEXANDRIA -- The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled a former Hanson School District music teacher was entitled to unemployment benefits after she left her position, because the district reduced it to part-time and cut her pay by 25 percent.

In March 2011, Jenny Easton, a full-time music teacher with the Hanson School District, was told her position was being replaced with a part-time position, according to a summary of the case included with the Supreme Court's decision, which was filed Wednesday.

Easton was offered the part-time position, the decision says, but rejected it in April 2011 mainly because of the decreased pay, which would have cut her annual salary from $29,300 to $21,975. Easton had worked for the district since 2004.

In September 2011, Easton filed for unemployment benefits, and the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation found Easton was eligible. The district appealed the department's decision and lost, then appealed again -- this time to the secretary of the Department of Labor -- and it was found "Easton was not eligible to receive unemployment benefits because the part-time position was suitable and Easton did not have good cause to reject the new position," the decision says.

Easton appealed the secretary's ruling to circuit court, and in June 2012 the secretary's ruling was reversed when Judge Sean O'Brien found Easton was eligible for unemployment benefits. The district appealed O'Brien's ruling to the state Supreme Court.

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In its analysis of the case, the Supreme Court notes that state law says anyone who rejects a "suitable offer of employment without good cause" will be denied unemployment benefits.

Based on the circumstances of the case, the Supreme Court affirmed O'Brien's ruling.

"We conclude Easton is eligible for unemployment benefits because the 25 percent pay reduction made the part-time position unsuitable and gave Easton good cause to reject the new position," the decision says.

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