The lawsuit accuses the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity of neglecting serious flaws in its online unemployment filing system.
A class action filed on behalf of Florida residents who have struggled to receive unemployment has moved to court.
The lawsuit, says NBC Miami, was filed on behalf of 19 Floridians. In their complaint, they accuse the state of negligence for not promptly approving and disbursing unemployment benefits.
BayNews9 reports that an initial hearing was held by the Second Judicial Court on Friday. The hearing—which was held completely online—offered an opportunity both for the state and plaintiffs to present their cases.
Several unemployed Floridians shared their stories of hardship amidst the pandemic—hardship which has been exacerbated by residents’ inability to receive benefits or talk to Department of Economic Opportunity support staff.
“I probably spent three to four hours a day for the first eight weeks trying to reach out to people in the call centers,” said plaintiff Jacquez McCoy.
McCoy told the court that the weeks he had to wait to receive benefits posed a hardship to his family—so thin did their finances run that McCoy had to return his baby’s diapers to get money for food.
Another member of the class, Amy Moore Ramirez, recalled how her application was inexplicably denied.
“There’s no method,” Moore Ramirez said. “I couldn’t find out why I was denied.”
Like McCoy, she spent hours each day trying to re-file her application or check on its status.
The lawsuit, adds News Channel 8, was filed by attorneys Marie Mattox and Gautier Kitchen. They have criticized not only the state’s sluggish response, but the way in which Florida’s unemployment processing software was designed.
Mattox noted that several state audits had found that DEO’s system was inadequate and in desperate need of correction.
“[These audits were] showing that the system was fatally flawed and there were 600 problems that were identified in the last audit, and nothing was done to fix these problems,” Mattox said.
But Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Damon Steffens said that, in many cases, clients who had their applications rejected were simply not eligible for benefits.
“The most common reason people are ineligible is because of wages,” Steffens said. “Jobs, history, wages, things of that nature.”
Steffens also told the judge that many of the lawsuit’s complaints have since been resolved. Steffens said that the unemployment website, for instance, was initially designed to accommodate only 5,000 users at any given time. But as coronavirus restrictions and closures have forced many Americans out of work, the DEO has upgraded its software—its application portal can now handle about 80,000 users.
The court, however, declined the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit outright.
Alongside the state and its DEO, the lawsuit also names a defendant Deloitte Services, which designed Florida’s unemployment website.