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Gig workers file lawsuit against Nevada unemployment office

Updated May 13, 2020 - 7:14 pm

It has been nearly two months since gig workers in Nevada were deemed eligible to file for unemployment insurance benefits, as part of the CARES Act, and they’re still waiting.

Two Reno-based independent contractors, Amethyst Payne and Iris Podesta-Mireles, have lost their patience and filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of gig workers against the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, which oversees the unemployment office.

Payne, a licensed massage therapist, hopes the lawsuit gets DETR to act quickly.

“There needs to be a change, period,” she said. “I just hope that (this lawsuit) really does help people in the end.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak and DETR have told claimants over the course of several weeks the system for gig workers would be completed by mid-May.

Both offices did not respond to a request for comment.

DETR director Heather Korbulic told the Review-Journal on Monday that the department should be able to accept claims from independent contractors, self-employed workers and gig workers in the next 10 days.

The complaint — filed in the Second Judicial District Court for the County of Washoe by Reno-based law firm Thierman Buck LLP — alleges DETR “failed to provide any method” for gig workers to apply for benefits even though “it has been more than six weeks since the March 15, 2020 Nevada state ordered shut down, and more than four weeks” after the U.S. Department of Labor provided guidance to states on implementing the federal provision.

“Delay in payments of federally mandated unemployment benefits has caused, and will continue to cause, Plaintiffs-Petitioners irreparable harm,” according to the complaint.

It asks for immediate payment to those gig workers in the lawsuit as required by the federal CARES Act as well as “interest, attorney’s fees and costs, as allowed by law.”

Striking a match

Thierman Buck Founding Partner Mark R. Thierman said his clients are longtime personal friends and when he learned they weren’t able to file for unemployment benefits, he knew a lawsuit needed to be filed.

“I’m not really asking for money,” he said. “I’m asking them to do their job … just get it done. We’re not seeking anything … let them have access to the process.”

Mike Arias, managing partner of Los Angeles-based Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos LLP, said this was the first lawsuit of its kind he has seen.

It’s possible the issue could be resolved before any action can be taken on the lawsuit, but he has seen cases in the past in which a judge was able to step in and require a state or agency to take immediate action.

“When dealing with governmental agencies, sometimes it’s easy (for them) to stand by and say, ‘This is all (we) can do,’” said Arias, who specializes in class-action lawsuits. “Legal action — sometimes it’s the only way to get them to do more.”

It’s no secret that DETR has been overwhelmed with an influx of claims and lack of staff to meet the demand.

A total of 412,211 initial claims have been filed this year through the week that ended April 25 — further exceeding the number of claims filed in any full calendar year in state history — but only a portion have been processed.

The delays are taking a toll on residents, and many are losing their patience as they wait to receive income.

Las Vegas Realtor Matthew Jones of O48 Realty has been trying to file for unemployment benefits since April 3.

With businesses starting to reopen this week, he’s unsure if he’ll receive unemployment benefits before heading back to work.

“I’m still paying all my Realtor fees and everything that comes with it, cellphone and car payments,” he said. “I don’t see myself getting anything. I’m just sitting back going, ‘Let’s see, let’s see (if the money comes in).’ But I doubt it.”

Thierman said gig workers who are interested in joining the lawsuit should contact him by going to his website, https://thiermanbuck.com/.

Contact Subrina Hudson at shudson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Follow @SubrinaH on Twitter. Contact Bailey Schulz at bschulz@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0233. Follow @bailey_schulz on Twitter.

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