Six unemployed Georgians are suing the Georgian Ministry of Labor (GDOL) for not processing their jobless claims.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Georgia, Lisa English was a contract accountant for a retail company in Fulton County. She was fired for eight weeks because of the public health shutdown and was applying for unemployment benefits.
English said she spoke to a GDOL representative who wanted to confirm her status as a contract worker but has not heard or received anything else from the state agency since late March.
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English was finally released a few months later. As a result, English lost her home and the ability to regain custody of her son who has special needs. She now lives with a friend in Rockdale County and does some accounting gigs every now and then.
“Right now the biggest thing is getting my son back,” said English. “I had sent him to Florida for medical reasons to live with his father. He was diagnosed with mild autism and needed speech therapy so only his father’s insurance would cover the in-state area.”
After making countless calls to GDOL, English said she was seeking legal help from the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP).
The GLSP, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society Inc. and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against GDOL and its Commissioner Mark Butler on Tuesday. They are asking a judge on the Fulton County Supreme Court to order the state agency to pay and process the unemployed ‘s claims “on time” under the law.
“Georgia law requires it [GDOL] Immediately determine eligibility, pay unemployment insurance claims, and schedule hearings, “the lawsuit said.
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In addition to English, three of the other plaintiffs have waited months to find out if they were eligible for the benefits.
GDOL approved Macon-based Sulatha Blount’s application for Pandemic Unemployment Benefit (PUA) assistance in March, but she has not yet received payment, lawyers said. In August, a GDOL employee asked Blount to send in a fresh copy of her driver’s license as it had expired when the agency made her claim. Lawyers said Blount uploaded the license the same day, but has not heard from GDOL since then.
Another plaintiff, Danielle Robitshek, quit her job as a dog groomer in June after her former employer refused to follow COVID-19 safety protocols with customers. She applied for PUA but was rejected. Robitshek appealed the decision in September and is now suing GDOL for a hearing.
The lawyers asked the court to instruct GDOL to respond to plaintiffs’ unemployment claims within five to 30 days.
GDOL spokesman Kersha Cartwright said the department had not received an official legal document by Wednesday afternoon and “could not comment on its contents”. Plaintiffs’ attorneys filed the lawsuit Tuesday, saying they expect it to be accepted by the court clerk on Wednesday.
The GDOL and Butler have received increasing pressure to meet unresolved claims. Members of the House Democratic Caucus Subcommittee on COVID-19 filed a federal complaint calling for an investigation into the unemployment process. They said the GDOL violated federal law that unemployment benefits must be paid within 21 days to those who qualify for it.
Butler said last month that most unprocessed claims require one more level of verification to determine if an employee is eligible. More than 400,000 claimants have reported working but not showing enough wages to be eligible for unemployment, and more than 31,000 claimants have been reported for fraud, Butler said.
The GDOL has received a record number of jobless claims due to the pandemic. The agency has processed 4.2 million applications since the week ended March 21, which is more than the past nine years combined.