(The Center Square) — Georgia officials have agreed to proceed with an agreement to settle a lawsuit over payment and processing of unemployment insurance benefits claims after a press release nearly derailed the accord.
In late June, the Southern Poverty Law Center disseminated a news release announcing that U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee approved the preliminary settlement in a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Labor. The SPLC and Atlanta-based law firm Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore filed the lawsuit in 2021.
According to the release, the state labor department agreed to improve its unemployment claims processing system as part of the settlement. The updates would lessen delays that cropped up amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kersha Cartwright, a GDOL spokeswoman, initially told The Center Square in June that there was no settlement agreement but eventually backed off her initial assessment. After the news release was issued, the state filed a motion to withdraw from the settlement.
The parties have since jettisoned their differences and agreed to proceed with the settlement agreement.
“This agreement is symbolic of the cooperation of both parties working together to create solutions for Georgians,” state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in an announcement.
According to a joint news release issued this week, state officials thought the June release was “interpreted by many to be a rebuke of the Department and its employees.” However, the plaintiffs said they “never intended to rebuke the Department of Labor and its employees in their press release.”
Cartwright said the settlement agreement will result in “no additional financial burden” for Georgia taxpayers as it involves “system improvements already underway.”
According to this week’s release, the state and the plaintiffs agree that “adequate funding” is needed for the labor department to “continue its momentum in improving systems and communications.” They want state lawmakers to reinstate the Administrative Assessment, which is set to expire and result in a $10 to $20 million loss for the department.
“The winners of this settlement are the people of Georgia,” Kirsten Anderson, the deputy legal director for the SPLC, said in an announcement.
By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor