State Department of Labor sued over unemployment payment delays

Since the first weeks of the pandemic, the Department of Labor has faced criticism for its handling of unemployment claims. Here, a protest by claimants at a department office in Gwinnett County in March 2020. /WSB-TV
Since the first weeks of the pandemic, the Department of Labor has faced criticism for its handling of unemployment claims. Here, a protest by claimants at a department office in Gwinnett County in March 2020. /WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

Credit: WSB-TV

A civil rights advocacy group sued the Georgia Department of Labor Monday, demanding that it release records about months-long delays many applicants for unemployment benefits faced as they waited for their claims to be processed.

The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center filed the suit in Fulton Superior Court, asking a judge to order the department to provide the information.

The lawsuit contends that in early December, the center filed a request for the information under the Georgia Open Records Act, which grants the public the right to see copies of records made in the course of a public agency’s operation. The department promised to provide the information, but did not, the lawsuit says.

“Since the pandemic began, thousands of Georgians have lost their jobs and have struggled to purchase food and pay their rent,” said Emily Early, an attorney with the SPLC’s Economic Justice Project. “Throughout this time, the GDOL has taken months to respond to unemployment applications and requests for appeals with no explanation for these unconscionable delays.”

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor declined comment Tuesday, saying officials had not reviewed the suit.

Since the start of the pandemic, about 4.5 million Georgia unemployment claims have been processed — more than the nine previous years combined. Roughly 450,000 Georgians are currently receiving jobless benefits, but tens of thousands of others are waiting for hearings on their claims.

In January, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the department on behalf of six applicants who said they had waited months for their claims or appeals to be processed. The department argued they were managing an unprecedented number of claims, had made an effort to improve their response and should not give those applicants special treatment.

A Fulton judge agreed with the department and dismissed that case.

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