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Floridians look to join lawsuit against state over unemployment issues

Posted at 12:12 PM, May 02, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — There’s frustration among thousands of Floridians trying to secure unemployment help, and many are now watching a lawsuit against the state.

“It’s so confusing and it’s maddening to try to make sense of it,” said Lauren Hawkins.

Hawkins said in early April she was furloughed, after working years with the gym that employees her.

“I’m a salaried employee I’ve never been in unemployment. I’ve been with the same company for over 6 years so I didn’t see it coming. It definitely, just took me by surprise and it just wave of confusion sadness,” she said.

Last week, Hawkins said she discovered her claim was marked ineligible, but because the determination said unavailable, she had no link to follow to appeal. She said she went ahead and reapplied.

Christopher Wright shares a similar story.

“No determination in there, no correspondence that can tell me why I’ve been marked ineligible,” he said.

Wright said he learned he was deemed ineligible last week, too, after being furloughed effective April 1.

“I managed to fight through the automated system and they told me it was because of the monetary determination and I’m like 'OK I’ve been at the same job for 8 years,'” he said.

He’s reapplied, and said now his application is marked pending again.

Hawkins is not involved in the lawsuit, however, Wright said he’s wrote to an attorney taking the state to court over the system.

“The state has to be held accountable for this as well as make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Attorneys who filed two cases against the state said they’ve received at least 10,000 messages from people looking for help. Some they've describe as tragic and full of despair. They hope the suits become class action.

“We have heard from dozens of people's stories that are so compelling I’ve cried, he’s cried,” said attorney Marie Mattox, sitting next to attorney Gautier Kitchen.

In one suit filed last week in Leon County against the state, attorneys want to compel the state to make payments. Thursday, they filed an emergency motion to set a hearing on it, including hundreds of messages from impacted people in it. They also suggested a pay and chase approach, similar to Medicaid claims.

“This is a systemic problem,” said Kitchen.

The lawyers said they expected to have a hearing next week to hear any potential motions to dismiss, and for a case management conference.

“You’ve got tragic circumstances and it’s just troubling that why haven’t the lawyers reached out to us,” said Mattox.

Both the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and governor’s office decline to comment on pending litigation.

A second suit also filed last week in Leon County alleges negligence. That suit also names Deloitte Consulting, the CONNECT site’s designer.

This week, some lawmakers have started calling for improvements, and others changes.

In a letter to the governor, State Sen. Darryl Rouson wrote:

“Deloitte should be barred from receiving any new state contracts until they pay back the taxpayer dollars they received to develop the broken unemployment system, and the existing bid system should be reevaluated. I call upon your office to immediately appoint a special commission to reexamine the existing bid system, including legislators from both parties, to fix a problem your administration did not create.”

Friday, the governor announced the unemployment system needs an investigation.

State Sen. Ed Hooper, who is chair of the Governmental Oversight and Accountability committee, confirmed he would not oppose determinations to open up an investigation.

Deloitte said in a statement to ABC Action News:

“When the state accepted the system and we completed our work in 2015, CONNECT was vastly outperforming the systems it replaced and processing claims more efficiently and accurately than ever before. We have not been involved in the system since then. Clearly, any lawsuit involving us would have no merit.”

The DEO announced Friday they would continue waiving the work search requirement and allow Floridians to modify their claim filing date, which allows people to get retroactive pay back to the day they lost their job.

A claimant request to modify the claim through here. People can visit the same site to be considered for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Over the weekend, there will be unavailability until Monday morning to existing claimants while the state processes claims. Individuals can still file a new claim, however, DEO said individuals with questions on their claim should call 1-833-FL APPLY 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

General questions not claim specific can be answered 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

ABC Action News asked what a claimant who believes they are falsely deemed ineligible should do without a determination marked.

The agency said, “There are numerous reasons an applicant can be found to be ineligible including incomplete or inaccurate information. For individuals who may have an incomplete or inaccurate information, DEO is reaching out to assist in completing their applications.”
At last check on April 30, DEO reports nearly one million confirmed unique claims submitted. It says it’s processed more than 72 percent of them and paid nearly $600,000,000.

It’s found more than 400,000 eligible for reemployment assistance, and more than 260,000 ineligible.