Kelly Murphy et al v. Michael Harrington, Commissioner, and VT Dept. of Labor
On December 1, 2021, Vermont Legal Aid Inc. (VLA) filed a class action lawsuit in Washington Superior Court against the Vermont Department of Labor (VDOL) based on extensive delays in scheduling unemployment benefit appeals in violation of the law. The lawsuit requests an order from the Court to compel VDOL to come into compliance with the law.
Vermont law requires VDOL to hold unemployment hearings within thirty days after someone files an appeal. However, nearly two years after the coronavirus pandemic hit the state, VDOL is still failing to comply with this mandate. Instead, Vermonters must wait almost six months for their hearing. People don’t get unemployment benefits while their appeal is pending, so these continued delays are devastating for out-of-work Vermonters. There is no question that VDOL is completely out of compliance with the law.
“Many of our clients were wrongfully denied unemployment compensation, wrongfully terminated from their unemployment compensation, or wrongfully issued huge overpayment notices,” says Kelli Kazmarski, VLA attorney in the Poverty Law Project. “These delays are violating not only state law, but also Vermonters’ due process rights. People are waiting months and months without benefits just to be heard before these errors can be corrected. That’s simply unacceptable.”
VLA has been pushing the DOL to resolve this issue since at least January 2021. Over the summer of 2021, VDOL made assurances to advocates that it had a plan, and that it expected to make substantial progress in resolving the unlawful delay in appeal hearings by the end of September 2021. Yet, that still has not happened. In fact, the data shows that these delays in holding appeal hearings have continued. Over 600 unemployed Vermonters are waiting five or six months for their appeal hearing.
As plaintiff Joshua Webb explains, these delays have a considerable impact: “What the Department of Labor doesn’t seem to understand is that some promise of receiving any benefits I am due in the future does not pay my rent or other bills right now. Getting a lump sum of benefits I was owed six months after I appeal is not that helpful if I am already homeless by the time I receive the benefits!”