Lawsuit filed against WA Employment Security Dept. commissioner

Suzi Levine
Credit: ESD

SEATTLE, Wash. — The Unemployment Law Project and two petitioners have filed a lawsuit against the Washington Employment Security Department Commissioner Suzi Levine for stopping unemployment benefits during a fraud investigation. The lawsuit claims the department lost at least $550 million, and about $300 million was recovered.

According to the lawsuit filed in the Washington state Supreme Court, the commissioner failed to process and provide prompt payment of benefits. In addition, the lawsuit says claimants provided social security cards, passports and driver’s licenses due to “ESD’s inability to respond to claimants in a timely manner.”

“The procedural nightmare at ESD is an affront to dignity,” the lawsuit stated.

The petitioners are two workers from Seattle and Burien. McKeezi Taylor Barraza and Marianne White claim their unemployment benefits were delayed. The Unemployment Law Project, with offices in Seattle and Spokane, help people navigate ESD’s website and unemployment benefits.

The lawsuit states that the department did not communicate with claimants about the delayed unemployment claim process.

“This Court’s consideration is urgently needed because withholding unemployment benefits cuts off the only source of income and, thereby, sustenance for many across our state,” the lawsuit said. “Washington’s workers reasonably rely on ESD efficiently providing them with their benefits. But ESD has failed to process and promptly pay many legitimate claims throughout this crisis, including before the wave of fraudulent and apparently fraudulent claims.”

During the fraud investigation, ESD said payments would be held for 1-2 days to validate all claims as authentic. However, the lawsuit said claimants waited weeks and Commissioner Levine failed to process them in a timely manner and suspended benefits without notice or a hearing. The claim said this is a violation of the due process clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment.

“The Commissioner lacks authority to halt unemployment benefits to legitimate claimants, even if there are fraudulent claims,” the lawsuit states.

The claim is asking the commissioner to refrain from stopping benefits without providing notice and opportunity for a hearing. It also demands the commissioner to process payments in a timely manner.

They’re also ordering ESD “to adopt policies that prioritize promptly paying benefits to those who are eligible without subjecting them to dangerous privacy risks.”

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