The Southern Poverty Law Center and an Atlanta-based law firm have filed a class action lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Labor and Commissioner Mark Butler over the long delays some unemployed Georgians suffered during the pandemic.

Four named and nine anonymous plaintiffs say the Department of Labor violated the law by not acting fast enough to process and pay workers during the unprecedented unemployment crisis. They are demanding an injunction that will force the Department of Labor to comply with the state code’s demands for punctuality and financial compensation.

“The pandemic has caused the biggest unemployment crisis in generations, and during that difficult time GDOL has refused to obey the law to help people who urgently need it,” said Emily Early, senior attorney for the SPLC’s Economic Justice Project . “State and federal laws guarantee speed and due process, and GDOL has ignored those rights and its duty to serve the public in extreme times of need.”

Butler dismissed the lawsuit as a political farce.

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

In November, the department said it had cleared their backlog, although people making claims continued to report long waits.

However, according to the lawsuit, in the final quarter of 2020, only 12.7% of applicants in Georgia found out if they were eligible to receive benefits within 21 days, and in the first quarter of 2020 it was only 10%, according to employment reports, 80% of applicants who receive notice of termination during this period are acceptable.

The lawsuit states that the median age of one type of appeal filed by job seekers was over 256 days in the first half of the year, placing Georgia 49th in the nation, after West Virginia.

“The extreme delays in the jobless application process are the result of policies and procedures that are under the control of the defendants,” reads the complaint filed by the employees (1,066 in 2020), which occurred during the Great Recession (2,219 in 2019) would have.”

Between March 2020 and this month, the Georgia Department of Labor processed more than 4.8 million initial jobless claims, more than in the ten years prior to the pandemic.

Labor workers say they have worked around the clock to process applications as quickly as possible, often sacrificing their personal and family time to help those in need.

But many of the Georgians making these claims needed the money to support their families, but they said their emails and phone calls went unanswered.

Desperate, many of them turned to lawmakers who wanted to punish Butler with new legal oversight, a measure that received bipartisan support but was vetoed by Governor Brian Kemp, who said the law violated the state’s constitutional separation of powers.

Later this week, the state will pull out of a federal unemployment program that will provide unemployed beneficiaries with an additional $ 300, an idea that Kemp and Butler said will help boost lagging employment in the leisure and hotel industries. Opponents say, however, that this will cut off an important lifeline for Georgians still affected by the pandemic labor crisis.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.

The Georgia Department of Labor is one of GPB’s financial backers.