CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) - New Jersey used a "deliberate strategy" to deny more than 10,000 people unemployment benefits, harasses laid-off workers who seek legal representation, and uses "sophisticated" questions to be able to criminally prosecute people who apply for unemployment, a laid-off worker and his attorneys claim in a class action lawsuit.
Ranulfo Postrero and Alan H. Schorr & Associates sued the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, in Camden County Chancery Court.
Schorr & Associates, of Cherry Hill, says it is one of the few law firms in New Jersey that specialize in unemployment law. Its client Postrero applied for unemployment insurance.
They claim that New Jersey has deliberately denied due process to people who apply for unemployment benefits. Not only that, the plaintiffs say, New Jersey "deliberately removed from claimant notices a statement advising that they had the right to counsel. Yet, all employers still receive such a notice."
The complaint states: "The process of applying for and receiving unemployment benefits has evolved into an extremely legally complicated process. The Department of Labor ('DOL') has many tools at its disposal for disqualifying employees for benefits, and has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years in terms of asking questions that elicit responses that unwittingly disqualify unrepresented claimants. According to DOL statistics provided via an OPRA [Open Public Records Act] request, during the fiscal year of July 2012-June 2013 alone 47,560 appeals were taken from initial unemployment decisions made by the Department of Labor. Over 13,000 of those initial decisions denying benefits were found on appeal to be incorrect. Not only does the Department of Labor utilize testimony from initial unemployment interviews for the purpose of disqualification, but sometimes this testimony can be forwarded to prosecutors for criminal prosecution.
"Against this complicated and sophisticated legal backdrop is a deliberate strategy by the Department of Labor to deprive unemployment claimants representation by legal counsel of their choice. Over the past few years, the Department of Labor has deliberately removed from claimant notices a statement advising that they had the right to counsel. Yet, all employers still receive such a notice. Only claimants have been deprived of the proper notice. In addition, claims examiners routinely discourage and harass claimants who wish to be represented by attorneys. The Department of Labor has turned a deaf ear on our complaints, leaving no choice but to file this complaint seeking to compel the Department of Labor to cease its efforts to prevent attorney participation and to compel the Department of Labor to reinstate its practice of properly notifying claimants of their right to counsel."
The plaintiffs seek class certification, preservation of records, a corrective injunction, and damages for constitutional violations.
They are represented by Alan Schorr.