Case against Alabama over unemployment rollout appealed to state Supreme Court

A lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Labor over its mismanagement of unemployment benefits during COVID-19 is being appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court after a county judge dismissed the case.

“The plaintiffs are asking (the Alabama Department of Labor Secretary) to process their unemployment claims in a timely manner, determine their eligibility, provide adequate notice before denying or terminating benefits, schedule hearings of appeal and to remedy the disenfranchisements of plaintiffs,” says the appeal submitted to the state Supreme Court on Monday.

The lawsuit, filed by Legal Services Alabama, alleged that the department was too slow in processing claims and ruling appeals for unemployment during the pandemic. The suit asked the court to make the department improve.

“We believe the district court was wrong to dismiss and that the case law establishes a right to sue a state for an injunction both when the state violates the U.S. Constitution and when it violates federal law,” said said Larry Gardella, an Alabama Legal Services attorney.

In May, Montgomery County Judge James Anderson dismissed a lawsuit against Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington after the state argued that Washington was protected by sovereign immunity. In June, Alabama Legal Services asked the judge to reconsider his decision and in August he upheld his decision to dismiss the case.

“We hope this issue is finally resolved and ADOL can spend more time working to serve the people of Alabama,” department spokeswoman Tara Hutchinson said following the judge’s ruling. in August.

The Alabama Department of Labor did not respond to requests for comment on Monday’s appeal.

As of February, Alabama had received but not answered at least 82,262 appeals regarding unemployment and overpayment rulings, according to a department report sent to the US Department of Labor.

Last year, Alabama required some Alabamians who received unemployment benefits to repay thousands of dollars due to overpayments resulting from agency, employer or recipient errors. The state said it overpaid $164 million in unemployment in 2020 and 2021.

Following an AL.com report on the overpayments in July, Gov. Kay Ivey called the situation unacceptable and said the state must address the “scandalous backlog.”

The U.S. Department of Labor has created a process for states to forgive federal unemployment dollars that were overpaid during COVID-19 and several states have requested waivers and are offering residents a broad pardon.

In September, the Alabama Department of Labor told AL.com it was considering seeking such a waiver, but it’s unclear whether the department has the ability to identify when a pardon would be warranted. .

“We are actively working with our software developers to identify other specific pandemic-related overpayments that can be waived within guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Labor,” spokeswoman Tara Hutchinson said.

Last month, the department identified 8,700 people who had received overpayment notices in error, often for thousands of dollars. The ministry has informed these recipients that they can request cancellation of part of their debt.

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