Do We Defer to the Agency Ruling?

As I think most employers know, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has recently held that it is not required to give high deference to a decision made by a state agency that is charged with the responsibility of enforcing a state law.  A good example is the Labor and Industry Review Commission that oversees and decides cases on equal rights, worker’s compensation and unemployment compensation matters.  A recent Supreme Court decision held that the Court is the final interpreter of state law and does not have to give a high level of deference to an interpretation by an agency hearing body.

Interestingly, the United States Supreme Court was faced with a similar question and decided, for now, to continue to give high deference to agency level decisions.  The United States Supreme Court acknowledged that its responsibility is to interpret the law but continued the prior precedent that it would give deference to a decision made at the agency level when that agency is the entity responsible for interpreting the law or statute in question.

This may seem like a conundrum where the lawyer is unable to determine whether or not the reviewing court will or must give deference to the agency ruling.  For the most part, however, Wisconsin cases will fall under the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling and the reviewing court will not be required to give high deference to the interpretation by the agency.

 Wisconsin lawyers will have to think twice as they consider whether they are dealing with a federal law or statute where the agency decision and interpretation has more clout compared to a decision by a state agency.