New Hampshire Legal Assistance

Helping to balance the scales of justice for everyone since 1971.

NHLA defends unemployment compensation

Norman Coulumbe worked for 30 years as a musician at Indianhead Resort in the North Country, and when he was laid off, he was relieved when the Unemployment Office told him he was eligible for benefits.

His relief didn’t last long, however, before his former employer appealed, claiming Mr.Coulumbe was an independent contractor whose entertainment services were supposedly “outside the usual course of the business for which such service is performed.”

Mr. Coulumbe turned to New Hampshire Legal Assistance for help. NHLA paralegal Dona Larsen, former NHLA staff attorney Dan Feltes, and NHLA Policy Director Sarah Mattson Dustin each took part in representing Mr. Coulumbe during the various stages of his case.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court found that “Rather than creating mere ‘ambience,’ Coulumbe’s services were used to attract new business to the resort, whose president and owner testified that the business provides ‘entertainment.’…Coulumbe’s services were not incidental to, but rather were an integral part of, the resort’s business.”

“It was along battle. It went on for a couple years, but it felt longer than a couple years to me. It was a real roller coaster,” Mr. Coulumbe said. “They were very optimistic about it. They believed that I had a good case and it made me feel the same way. That’s why I decided to continue on with it. A lot of times you get to the point where you feel like giving up, but because of the people I felt I could help, I wanted to continue on.”

NHLA’s unemployment advocacy helps ensure that our state’s unemployment system fulfills its purpose. As our Supreme Court itself noted in the opinion, “the purpose of our unemployment compensation statute…is to prevent the spread of unemployment and to lighten the burden on those workers who are involuntarily unemployed through no fault of their own.”

Read the New Hampshire Supreme Court opinion at http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/opinions/2014/2014032niadni.pdf