The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 20, 2018

Falsely accused jobless claimants to get another day in court

By The Building Tradesman

LANSING - Workers who were falsely accused of fraud by the state's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) may finally get a chance at justice.

On April 6 the Michigan Supreme Court issued an order that reopened the case, at least somewhat, after a 3-0 state Court of Appeals ruling in July had slammed it shut. Although a court of claims judge ruled that the case could proceed, the appellate judges ruled that a class action lawsuit by the falsely accused claimants against the state Unemployment Agency was filed too late, after a six-month deadline.

Now the Supreme Court has ordered oral arguments to take place to determine whether it will accept the claimants' appeal. "This is a very positive step forward," said a statement from the law firm of Pitt, McGehee, Palmer & Rivers, a representative of claimants in the class action. "This does not mean that we have won or that the Supreme Court will ultimately accept the case."

The case stems from the state UIA's use of MiDAS, the Michigan Data Automated System - which spit out fraud accusations in 62,784 cases during a period from October 2013 to August 2015. Without any human oversight, the system falsely accused jobless workers of fraud in claiming benefits. 

The state finally conducted what it said was a "top to bottom" review of its own computer program, and the UIA reversed 85 percent of the fraud accusations.  Last August the UIA announced that it was refunding $20.8 million to people who were falsely determined to have committed fraud in receiving jobless benefits, but that came after many claimants were unable to make rent or car payments, had their homes foreclosed or were forced into bankruptcy because of the false fraud accusations. State Democratic lawmakers have insisted that the refunds that were announced were wholly inadequate and will fail to make those families whole.

“It is extremely gratifying that all of those who have been falsely accused of fraud and suffered dire financial consequences will finally have their opportunity for justice," said a statement from Jennifer Lord of Royal Oak, attorney for the claimants. "We filed this case back in 2015 — and it’s been a long and painful ordeal for the tens of thousands of people that were harmed. With this order, we can now look forward to having our day in court and making the case for all of the Michigan citizens who have waited three years for justice."