Wooden judge gavel on light background
RENO — A state court judge held the Nevada unemployment office in contempt and gave it until the end of the month to comply with his July court order to resume paying pandemic relief benefits to almost 9,500 out-of-work gig workers and independent contractors.
"These people need to be paid," Washoe County District Court Judge Barry Breslow declared Thursday as he imposed a $1,000 fine on the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The judge scheduled a Dec. 31 compliance hearing and warned of additional action if the state doesn't release Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds by Christmas.
Bradford McEwen, an independent contractor who had the pandemic payments frozen after 21 weeks, told the Review-Journal he was disappointed with the ruling. He said claimants deserve compensation for hours of fruitless calls to Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation hotlines.
Self-employed photographer Dave Cherkis is waiting to receive pandemic benefits that he filed for in May. He derided the nominal fine as "a Band-Aid on a compound fracture."
Breslow's order came in a lawsuit that attorney Mark Thierman filed in May on behalf of independent contractors and self-employed workers seeking immediate payment of pending pandemic claims.
At the time, Nevada was the last state in the nation to begin taking applications for the pandemic payments.
State officials contended the jobless benefits office was battling rampant fraud and needed to determine the legitimacy of each claim before paying it out.
Breslow commissioned a 310-page report from a special hearing master that identified bottlenecks and breaks in processing payments for so-called gig workers.
The judge determined the swamped state unemployment office should not have decided that pandemic applicants were ineligible unless they completely ceased working.
His July 22 order said the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation could not stop paying pandemic claims, with exceptions for failing to meet certain eligibility benchmarks and suspected fraud, unless a worker received a hearing or was provided some means to protest.
As of Nov. 21, nearly 650,000 claims were filed and 74,000 Nevadans continued to receive pandemic payments since the program rolled out in May, the Review-Journal reported.