VEC gets more time to respond to class-action lawsuit

Posted at 2:55 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 18:22:21-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) will have an additional five days to respond to a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of five plaintiffs suing Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess. Senior United States District Judge Henry Hudson in the Eastern District of Virginia granted in part the VEC’s motion to extend their filing deadline on Wednesday.

The deadline, which was originally set for Friday, has now been moved to May 11.

“Further, Plaintiffs emphasize that the widespread and ongoing harms alleged in their Complaint evidence the prejudice they would suffer from a delay and the need for speedy resolution of this case,” Judge Hudson wrote.

Pat Levy-Lavelle with the Legal Aide Justice Center represents the five plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the VEC.

VEC has three weeks to decide unemployment eligibility, according to federal law.

The lawsuit argued that the state failed to do that 95 percent of the time.

Nearly all claims are taking 10 weeks or more, according to the attorney.

“This case is all about delays for months and months and months of Virginians waiting for benefits and suffering badly with those benefits not coming,” Levy-Lavelle said in an interview on Wednesday.

The Commonwealth hired Richmond-based law firm ThompsonMcMullan on April 26 to represent Commissioner Hess.

In federal court filings on Tuesday, they asked the judge for 21 additional days to respond to the lawsuit arguing that the “scope of the litigation is very broad.”

“Although the new attorney is saying I need time to catch up this is an issue the state’s been aware of for six months,” Levy-Lavelle stated. “In early November we sent them a letter with essential facts and legal theories in this case.”

Hess was served the lawsuit on April 16.

As of Wednesday afternoon, ThompsonMcMullan’s attorneys have not responded to a request for an interview.

A VEC spokesperson told CBS 6 they would not comment on litigation.

CBS 6 asked Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam about the complaints following an economic announcement in Petersburg on Tuesday.

Northam said the state is bringing in help from other agencies to deal with the backlog.

“I know patience is not a good word, but I’d ask these people who are still relying on the unemployment checks to really continue to work with us and we will get to them as soon as we can,” Northam said.