Washington ESD unemployment claimants’ civil rights investigation

During the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of workers lost their jobs and had to seek financial help from state-run unemployment insurance. In Washington, the state Employment Security Department reports it paid a staggering $20.9 billion in benefits to claimants between March 8, 2020 and August 21, 2021. This includes claimants covered by an alphabet soup of programs including traditional unemployment insurance (UI); Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA); Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC); Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC); Lost Wages Assistance (LWA); and extended benefits. At the same time, ESD’s deficient policies and procedures, coupled with its inadequate software system for managing claims, have deprived needy people of due process of law and have violated certain claimants’ civil rights.

For claimants, ESD’s claims handling process can be frustrating in many ways. The agency’s software system for unemployment benefits, “UTAB,” transmits poorly worded form letters that can baffle a claimant (for example, “Re-Evaluate Claim” letters that state some decision was made about the claim, but do not say what the decision was based on). The Department routinely issues overpayment notices that are legally void (because they are untimely), demanding claimants to repay weeks or months of benefits. And if a claimant appeals an ESD decision, he or she may wait months before a hearing, at times receiving repeated billings for overpayment amounts claimed by the Department in the meantime. And even if a claimant wins an appeal, the lengthy delay may result in significant hardship that cannot be entirely cured by awarding his or her overdue benefits.

What’s more, ESD routinely provides eligible claimants with pre-hearing notices that fall below its own standards for “adequate notice.”  Problems with its notice forms are notorious. Seattle Times, Washington State Literally Failed Workers, Feb. 26, 2021 (“The [claim] filing process still can be complicated, slow and easily stalled, many claimants say. Those with questions often struggle to contact the agency. Its website and computer-generated notifications can be notoriously confusing and even inaccurate.”). The agency’s pervasive problems with defective claimant notices spurred the state Legislature to pass reforms ordering ESD to use “plain and understandable language.” ESSB 5193 (Ch. 271, §3, Laws 2021) (requiring that ESD use plain and understandable language in notices and specify the legal and factual basis for determinations).

Our firm represents unemployment claimants seeking benefits from the Employment Security Department. We have litigated dozens of benefits claims before the Washington Office of Administrative Hearings since the Covid-19 pandemic began. We have seen disturbing patterns of vague and ambiguous determinations by ESD, facially void untimely overpayment assessments, and bureaucratic incompetence. We are actively investigating potential violations of claimants’ civil rights by the Employment Security Department including in situations listed above. If you are challenging an adverse unemployment decision, or believe your civil rights may have been violated, we want to hear from you. Contact us to discuss your situation; only after we accept you as a client and review the particulars of your matter can we advise you about your rights and options.

The car I bought doesn’t work – now what?

Maybe this sounds familiar: After looking cars over at the dealership, you set your eyes on what seemed like a great vehicle. So, you signed paperwork the dealer put in front of you and bought it. Everything felt right and you drove off the lot.

Later, the car turns out to be not so good. You contact the dealer and ask them to fix a problem you didn’t know about at the time of sale. Maybe the dealer won’t return your calls, or maybe you take the vehicle back for work but the dealer won’t get it done. Or, maybe the dealer tells you it’s a used car, so none of the problems are their responsibility.

Many buyers are unfamiliar with important legal rules about what happens when the vehicle isn’t what it seemed. If you have a vehicle that doesn’t live up to its sales pitch, and you’re struggling to get the dealer to fix the problem, contact us to see what we might be able to do. We have assisted many clients with disputes about defective vehicles (including warranty disputes, lemon law claims, and more). Often we are able to recover damages for our clients and our attorney’s fee from the dealer if we take a case, meaning the client doesn’t have to pay us for our time up front.

Each case is fact specific and we can only advise you about your options once we review all the relevant documents about your sale. Laws about auto sales can be complicated, and our firm’s consumer protection attorneys can carefully review your paperwork to check whether your dealer may owe you damages.

Consumer Class Action Cases

Smith & Dietrich represents consumer clients in class action lawsuits in state and federal courts.  In appropriate cases, we partner with larger law firms located throughout the United States to deliver excellent representation for class action plaintiffs, sometimes known as class representatives.

A “class action” is a legal action that allows representative plaintiffs to sue on behalf of themselves and groups of similarly situated claimants. Class actions can be a great tool to bring consumer cases involving many plaintiffs with relatively small, but similar damage claims. A class action may make it economical to bring claims that would not otherwise be litigated because each individual’s damages may be relatively low, and may force defendants to answer for harmful conduct that might otherwise have no legal consequence for them.

Currently our firm is involved in several class action lawsuits concerning banking practices. We are among the counsel representing plaintiffs suing multiple credit unions alleging expensive overdraft and/or NSF charges wrongfully imposed on everyday transactions. We are also involved in another class action case alleging that a credit union wrongfully charged borrowers for expensive “force placed” auto insurance.

We also have an active Telephone Consumer Protection Act class action practice where we seek consumer compensation for annoying and unlawful robocalls and similar telephone harassment.  Because telemarketers are known to place huge numbers of calls to many members of the public, TCPA claims may be well suited for class action treatment.

All of our class action cases started with individual Smith & Dietrich clients bringing important legal claims to our attention.  We evaluate all potential consumer claims for class action suitability, and in appropriate cases we may recommend that litigation strategy.  Contact us today to evaluate your consumer claims.

Active investigation: Wrongful overdraft and NSF fees

Have you been charged overdraft fees for a non-recurring debit card transaction or ATM withdrawal, despite never opting in to overdraft coverage with your financial institution? Have you been charged insufficient funds (NSF) or overdraft fees, even though you should have had sufficient funds in your account to cover the transaction in question? Our law firm wants to hear from you.

Consumers can fight back when their credit union or other financial institution wrongfully charges fees, such as for overdrafts or NSF transactions. Did you know the Federal Reserve requires consumers to opt-in for overdraft coverage for ATM and non-recurring debit transactions? The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (pages 8-9) has found that certain financial institutions engaged in unfair or deceptive conduct by failing to fully disclose when and how an account enters overdraft status. Smith & Dietrich Law Offices, PLLC is currently investigating claims of wrongful overdraft and NSF fee charges by Washington credit unions and other financial institutions. We would like to hear from consumers who believe their rights have been violated.

Please note that while we welcome the opportunity to speak with you, this post is not suggesting that your bank or credit union has necessarily violated any law or your rights. We are conducting an investigation and only after a thorough review of your situation can we address whether you were improperly charged NSF or overdraft fees. Because each consumer’s situation is potentially fact-specific, we would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about your concerns, your rights, and your available options.

Don’t Be Taken for a Ride: Getting the Relief You Need in a Lemon Law Case

Maybe this scenario sounds familiar: someone you know spends thousands of dollars, perhaps financed with a loan at a high interest rate, to buy an exciting new car. Sadly, though, the excitement is short-lived, since the vehicle promptly begins to experience a seemingly endless series of mechanical problems. The warranty service provider does not know what to say about the vehicle; it’s just one of those unfortunate “lemons.” What options are available for this frustrated car owner?

The good news is that Washington has a “Lemon Law” that protects car buyers in certain situations. By law, the manufacturer has to honor a consumer’s demand to repurchase or replace their vehicle if it meets the legal standard of a lemon. To have a winning claim, the car owner must generally begin to experience problems with the vehicle early—within the first two years or 24,000 miles after the original sale. The law defines four specific lemon law claims that trigger repurchase or replacement by the vehicle’s manufacturer. Read more about the specific types of lemon law claims on pages 3-4 in this brochure provided by the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

If you or someone you know is dealing with a suspected lemon law case, a consumer protection attorney should be able to help you understand your options, value your claim, and protect your interests. If you plan to seek a repurchase or replacement of your vehicle, an attorney can help present your case to the manufacturer or arbitrator.

Our firm has experience serving consumers with lemon law claims. Contact us for a free initial consultation if you would like to discuss your rights concerning a potential lemon. Certain special remedies may be available for owners of specific vehicles covered by class-action settlements; for example, you may have up to six years to pursue a claim for repurchase or replacement of the following Ford vehicles equipped with a PowerShift Transmission if they were originally sold in the United States and its territories:

  • 2011-2016 Ford Fiesta;
  • 2012-2016 Ford Focus.

If you are having problems with a suspected lemon, especially if it is a Ford vehicle listed above, contact us today to discuss your rights.