NewsRegion C Palm Beach County


Florida law firm files lawsuit against Gov. DeSantis, Department of Economic Opportunity

Plaintiffs seek emergency relief, 'compensatory damages' and economic loss
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
Posted at 2:51 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 21:36:45-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida law firm filed a lawsuit this week against Gov. DeSantis and the state's Department of Economic Opportunity regarding the beleaguered unemployment system and impact on workers.

Tallahassee-based Kitchen Law Firm filed the lawsuit Wednesday and names eight plaintiffs on behalf of others affected.

The lawsuit cites the long wait times workers have faced filing for benefits during the downturn in the economy.

Gautier Kitchen and Marie Mattox filed this lawsuit claiming the state is failing to maintain an adequate unemployment benefit system and they want immediate payment for hundreds of thousands of Floridians.

“The system was designed to fail, the website in and of itself was intentionally made to be confusing, not user friendly, unnecessarily redundant, a deterrent to just getting people to submit an application much less get approved,” said attorney Gautier Kitchen.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus | The Rebound South Florida | We're Open South Florida

In recent weeks, the Department of Economic Opportunity has added staffing and computer servers for a system they say is overwhelmed by applications.
However, this week hundreds of thousands faced either rejection or no word at all.

In the suit, it says that one plaintiff, Richard Walls was unable to contact anyone at the DEO for 31 days to file for unemployment benefits.

"From March 23, 2020, to date, April 23, 2020 ... Plaintiff Walls has been unable to make contact with anyone employed with Defendant DEO to obtain unemployment compensation benefits. The unemployment site to obtain these benefits is all but unusable and Plaintiff Walls status has been “pending” since March 25, 2020. He has, at times, been able to log onto the unemployment compensation website, however, his efforts have resulted in the site displaying various error messages. One of the error messages directed Plaintiff Walls to call a number, which when called, stated that all lines were busy. There was no message service or call back service. The system then hung up," according to the lawsuit.

WEB EXTRA: Tallahassee law firm files lawsuit against state of Florida (19 minutes)

The plaintiffs named in the suit live in various places across the state, holding a variety of jobs including: a restaurant worker, real estate agent, chef and photographer.

"Plaintiffs, and all others similarly situated numbering in the thousands, were unable to obtain access to the unemployment system to apply for benefits and even after gaining said access, were diverted to another site or have been unable to obtain RA/unemployment compensation benefits rightfully due to them," according to the lawsuit.

The law firm is seeking emergency relief along with "compensatory damages and economic loss" for the plaintiffs and others affected.

The suit names the governor, citing that he "is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the unemployment compensation system in the State of Florida works and is accessible to citizens."

The governor and DEO have not commented on the lawsuit.

Below is the full lawsuit filed this week in Tallahassee: