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Georgians sue to stop extreme delays in state unemployment process

ATLANTA – Multiple Georgia residents have filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) and its commissioner, Mark Butler, to compel the department to perform its duties under Georgia law to timely process unemployment applications, make eligibility determinations, pay unemployment benefits to eligible applicants, and schedule administrative appeal hearings on eligibility determinations. 


Under Georgia law, the GDOL and its Commissioner have a duty to “promptly” determine eligibility, pay benefits, and set appeal hearings. The lawsuit seeks to immediately compel the GDOL and its Commissioner to comply with these legal obligations.


One plaintiff, Sulatha Blount, was approved by the GDOL to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) but has yet to receive a payment. Blount said she repeatedly called the Macon office but did not reach anyone. A person from GDOL did call her about an expired ID in late August 2020. She submitted the new ID and tried to call the same GDOL number to say that she sent the new ID, but has not gotten a call back.


“I’ve suffered terrible harm. I live alone, and am self-employed cleaning buildings, and haven’t received unemployment based on my March 2020 application,” Blount said. “They say I am supposed to receive $228 a week in PUA but I haven’t received it. I’ve gotten no feedback from them about when I’ll get benefits.”


Other Georgia residents bringing the suit include Krista Emilien, Lisa English, Danielle Robitshek, Harriet Rogers and Kristy Townley. Emilien, English, Rogers and Townley applied for unemployment benefits after losing their jobs this year and have been waiting months  for an eligibility determination. Robitshek was also denied benefits under the PUA program and appealed that decision in September 2020. No appeal hearings have been scheduled in any of these cases.


The total number of regular initial unemployment claims filed in Georgia reached an all-time high of 4,155,205 for the period between the weeks ending March 21, 2020, and December 12, 2020, compared to a total of 194,077 claims filed for a similar period in 2019 (between weeks March 23, 2019, and December 14, 2019).


Butler has acknowledged there is a backlog of 40,000 to 50,000 applications.


 The plaintiffs are being represented by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., Georgia Legal Services Program, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). 


The lawsuit can be read here.