Georgia’s Labor Ministry sued for delays in unemployment claims

Why you may not have gotten unemployed yet

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler points out the main issues they see that are holding up some jobless claims.

Four Georgia residents are suing the state Department of Labor saying delays in processing, paying, and hearing appeals on unemployment claims are against state and federal law.

The lawsuit was filed in the Fulton County Superior Court last week and announced Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The plaintiffs ask a judge to confirm the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of others who have suffered delays.

The plaintiffs are demanding, among other things, that the judge order the ministry to obey the law and that the state pay people compensation.

The lawsuit outlines three different areas in which the government has failed: determining whether someone is eligible for unemployment benefits, quickly disbursing benefits after they have been granted, and providing timely remedies if benefits are denied.

State lawmakers tried to overthrow Mark Butler, Republican Labor Commissioner-elect, during this year’s regular session of the General Assembly, but Governor Brian Kemp vetoed it. Lawmakers say it has been inundated with hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints from voters saying they were unable to communicate with the department or resolve disputes.

SEE MORE: Activists urge the Georgia Department of Labor to fix the unemployment system

“Unemployment benefit applicants in Georgia have experienced extreme delays at every step of the process, including waiting several months for a GDOL applicant reviewer to review their claim for benefits and determine their eligibility to receive payments they were deemed eligible for and Appeal hearing is scheduled, “said the lawsuit. “Applicants often pass months without reaching anyone at GDOL or being contacted by anyone at GDOL.”

The lawsuit argues that Butler is violating state laws that require determinations and payments to be made “quickly”. It also argues that the limbo violates plaintiffs’ right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.

Butler has admitted that the department has been inundated with applications, especially last year, and has blamed previous underfunding by state lawmakers for undermining some of the agency’s capabilities. However, he said the agency had caught up.

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“This is obviously another politically motivated lawsuit. As with previous lawsuits, we expect this lawsuit to be unfounded, ”Butler said in a statement. “These groups believe that unemployment insurance should be paid to all applicants regardless of their qualifications.”

Butler says Georgia is faster than average in processing claims.

Ministry officials did not immediately respond to an email asking for comments on the lawsuit.

Plaintiff Von King, who had given up her job as a moving company to look after her child due to a lack of childcare, had filed an appeal since August. Plaintiff Gereline Thompson says she received notice in June 2020 that her claim was approved after she was fired from the Burke County’s school system, but said she was never paid. Plaintiff Danielle Johnson says the department never decided whether she would be eligible for benefits after her first filing in March 2020.

SEE MORE: Georgia lawmakers call for responses to the state’s unemployment backlog

The lawsuit states that plaintiffs have been exposed to uncertainty for months “as they struggled to pay rent and utilities, support themselves and their families, and pay other regular expenses such as medical bills and car payments.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been involved in at least two previous lawsuits against the department. One of them was a lawsuit filed by workers in January. A second was a public record lawsuit filed in March.

In April, US Democratic sensors Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and the six members of the US House of Representatives asked the US Department of Labor to investigate delays. Earlier this month, a candidate from the Ministry of Labor, when questioned by Ossoff in a hearing, promised that the federal government would help Georgia update its computer systems.

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