Lawyers file class-action lawsuit, emergency motion to get unemployment benefits paid immediately
The latest numbers from the state of Florida show that more than 45 percent of claims have been paid out to people seeking unemployment benefits since March 15.
Now, lawyers are turning to the court in hopes of getting money into the hands of people faster.
Marie Mattox and Gautier Kitchen said they are filing another emergency motion Thursday to get an order for payment immediately.
“We are going to file another emergency motion today to ask that the court have a hearing, not just on the motion to dismiss,” Mattox said. “But have a hearing on the merits, the mandamus, to compel the state of Florida to just pay.”
They’re suing Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Department of Economic Opportunity, and the company that created the system back in 2013.
Punta Gorda ride-share driver Robert Kantor said as soon as he heard about the lawsuit, he sent in the form to be a part of it.
“What they’ve done is just taking us all in circles,” Kantor said. “It’s just absolutely ridiculous. And I figure some legal pressure might work.”
That pressure is coming from lawyers Gautier Kitchen and Marie Mattox on behalf of thousands of Floridians.
“We’re hearing tragic stories about people who can’t buy their medication, they can’t buy food. We have one of the plaintiffs who had to trade diapers for his 2-month-old child for food,” Mattox said.
“The first goal is to get everybody paid now,” Kitchen said. “In 2020, after $77 million spent, we can’t make a website work? It would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.”
The state paid more than $77 million to create the website in 2013, using the company Deloitte.
Mattox and Kitchen allege the unemployment system was intentionally designed to be vague and cumbersome to keep unemployment numbers down.
“You add that with the fact that the website can’t handle the traffic, that was all foreseen. And we have whistle-blowers telling us that is exactly what this administration and the prior administration were warned about,” Kitchen said.
The lawyers point to the governor’s own words on the system.
“This thing was a clunker, there’s no doubt about it. It was designed with all these different things, to basically fail, I think,” DeSantis said on April 24.
“I agree with the governor,” Kitchen said.
WINK News reported in early April on the 2019 audit that highlighted several glitches and technical problems with the site, issues that auditors also brought up in 2015 and 2016 – before DeSantis was in office.
Fast forward to 2020 and a pandemic, and Kantor said he’s hoping legal action brings some relief before things get worse.
“Maybe another month or two tops, and that’s it. And then I have a choice of either borrowing money from family, or putting a mask on, going out and doing ride-share driving and putting myself in serious risk,” Kantor said.
Judge Angela Dempsey will hear the state’s motion to dismiss next Wednesday.
Both the DEO and DeSantis’ office said they don’t comment on pending litigation.
The company that made the website, Deloitte, sent WINK News this statement:
“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.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) was governor when the system was created. He’s not listed on the lawsuit, but gave WINK News this statement regarding the allegations about the system allegedly being designed to deliberately fail:
“Obviously, this is false and ridiculous. Every state in the country is struggling to deal with the unprecedented volume of suddenly unemployed workers. Everyone should be focused on getting relief to people who need it as fast as possible. Senator Scott worked with his colleagues to significantly boost unemployment benefits in the CARES Act and will continue work on policies that help the people who have been hurt by this crisis.”
Attorneys Gautier Kitchen and Marie Mattox say people affected by unemployment system issues can submit their information to be included in the class-actions at www.payfloridaworkers.com.
Mattox Law Firm PA
203 N. Gadsden St.
Tallahassee, FL 32301
Mattox told WINK News she and Kitchen “won’t be making a penny” off of any unemployment claimants for the mandamus.
She also updates the FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.