Judge rules DETR is ‘in contempt’ of court, ordered to pay thousands of PUA claimants

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – A judge ruled Thursday that DETR was in contempt of a court order after hearing the cases of three PUA claimants who had their payments started and then stopped. The three plaintiffs, who represented thousands of other claimants, were part of a class action lawsuit against the state’s employment department.

Washoe County District Court Judge Barry Breslow ordered that DETR must pay more than 9,000 PUA claimants whose payments were frozen by Dec. 24. The court also fined DETR $1,000.

Attorneys argued that the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation should be held in contempt of court for not following a court’s order issued on July 22 to pay eligible claimants who had their PUA payments started and then stopped.

“An order from the court isn’t optional,” said Leah Jones, attorney for the claimants, who asked the judge to hold DETR’s feet to the fire. “We had asked in our motion for contempt for you to publicly admonish DETR for their failure to comply with the court’s order,” she said.

Deputy Attorney General Robert Whitney, who is representing DETR, said there was no way DETR could comply with the order by July 28. Judge Barry Breslow scolded the state for not requesting a motion to extend that date, if they couldn’t meet that deadline.

“They don’t ignore it. What they do is ask the court to stay its enforcement of it, or they ask the court to amend it, or they ask the court to modify it or they ask for a hearing,” Breslow said.

The July court order required that PUA payments that were started should not be stopped except for the following four reasons: Claimant not filing a weekly claim, claimant earning too much to qualify, claimant not having the opportunity to have appeal heard yet, or clear and convincing evidence of fraud in the claim.

Three witnesses, Heather Boyd, Steve Kolesnik and Doug Doherty all testified about how their PUA payments started but stopped. Jones said the three actually represent between 11,741 to 22,036 people.

“I’m just really confused on what happened,” Boyd said.

Patricia Allander told the judge the three had their claims stopped for various reasons. She said Boyd’s claim had a misrepresentation which raised concerns about fraud. In regards to Kolesnik and Doherty’s claims, Allander said both men would be eligible for regular unemployment benefits and under Department of Labor rules, could not receive PUA.

Whitney, who is representing DETR, said there has been a combination of reasons why DETR hasn’t been able to follow the order including an overwhelming amount of claims and the fact that time was needed to get new employees trained and to weed out fraudulent claims.

The judge scheduled another hearing for Dec. 31 to determine if DETR followed the order.

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