Nevada off hook for contempt in gig workers benefits case
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada judge lifted a contempt finding against the state unemployment office, saying that it complied just before Christmas with his July court order to resume paying pandemic relief benefits to thousands of out-of-work gig and contract workers.
The state Department of Training, Employment and Rehabilitation issued a statement following the Thursday hearing saying 200 appeals have been heard under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program and another 320 hearings are scheduled in coming weeks.
Attorney Mark Thierman, representing several independent contractors and self-employed workers in the lawsuit filed last May, said Monday the question continues to affect “multiple thousands” of independent contractors and self-employed workers who should have received $600 weekly benefits that Congress allocated as pandemic relief.
“The mandate is still in place,” Thierman said. “A lot of people are still owed money. We’re frustrated with the lack of compassion and responsiveness that DETR has shown.”
The case, which sought class-action status, still is pending before the Nevada Supreme Court.
Washoe County District Court Judge Barry Breslow last month imposed a nominal $1,000 fine and held DETR in contempt for failing to comply with his July order to resume paying pandemic relief benefits to people who had payments start and then stop — leaving them without the $600 a week Congress promised, plus state payments.
State officials last month reported restarting payments on some 5,700 claims, in addition to about 3,000 that were already being paid, including through different programs. It said it identified about 1,100 claims as fraudulent.
In its Thursday statement, the state unemployment office noted it has asked the state high court to reverse Breslow’s order.
The agency argues Thierman’s clients lacked standing to sue and the judge lacked jurisdiction to decide the case.
The state’s unemployment rate was at an all-time low of 3.6% in February, but became the worst in the nation after the pandemic started and casinos and other non-essential businesses closed in March. Many businesses reopened by June, but by then the state jobless rate set a record for any state, topping 30% in April.
DETR reported Nevada’s unemployment rate at 14.2% on Dec. 31.
It said more than 807,000 initial claims were filed in 2020, including nearly 786,000 since mid-March.
Unemployment Assistance program filings totaled more than 78,800 in late December, the department said, adding that “applications in the PUA program continue to be highly variable.”