Editor’s Note: A hearing for a temporary order to maintain expanded unemployment benefits was set on Friday for 2 p.m.
With expanded federal unemployment benefits slated to end Saturday, attorneys for unemployed workers are hoping an emergency hearing on Friday could keep benefits flowing, at least temporarily.
Marylanders receiving expanded unemployment benefits have filed two lawsuits against Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who turned down continued federal aid, and Secretary of the Department of Labor Tiffany Robinson in the past week in an attempt to require federal benefits to continue.
Six plaintiffs, represented by Public Justice Center and law firm Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on Wednesday. They — a chef, cook, freelance film producer, massage therapist and cafeteria and dining room attendants — contend that Hogan’s decision to end federal benefits early violated a new state law that requires unemployment benefits to be maximized for eligible Marylanders.
The measure, House Bill 1002, sponsored by Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), went into effect in April. It requires the Maryland Department of Labor to “identify all changes in federal regulations and guidance that would expand access to unemployment benefits or reduce bureaucratic hurdles to prompt approval of unemployment benefits” by June 1. It became law without Hogan’s signature.
In their motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, lawyers for the plaintiffs argue that Hogan violated his duty under the Maryland Constitution to make sure that all laws are faithfully executed.
“With its unlawful action, the State is unnecessarily and prematurely cutting a lifeline for struggling Marylanders and risks plunging tens of thousands of Maryland citizens into housing instability as well as severe emotional and economic crisis,” they wrote.
Shad Baban, one the plaintiffs, worked as a cook at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor Hotel for seven years until March 2020.
“If my benefits are cut off next month, I don’t know what I’ll do. I am the breadwinner for my wife and nine-month-old, and I won’t be able to cover my family’s expenses,” he said in a statement. “We’ll almost certainly lose our home, and I’ll lose my car, which I would need to work. I thought these benefits would see me through the next couple of months until I can get on my feet. I can’t eat or sleep with the anxiety this is causing.”
A Hogan spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Starting July 3, Maryland is slated to eliminate $300 supplemental weekly payments to applicants who lost jobs and $100 weekly payments to “mixed earners,” usually gig workers who have multiple sources of income and traditionally have been ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Resuming July 4 is the state’s work-search rule, which requires unemployment claimants to complete three “re-employment activities” per week, such as submitting a job application or attending a virtual recruitment event.
Besides Hogan, 24 Republican governors and one Democrat also decided to end supplemental federal unemployment benefits in their states two months earlier than the Biden administration and Congress had intended.
Attorneys for Hogan and Robinson sought to move the lawsuit from Baltimore City Circuit Court to the federal court.
But on Thursday, plaintiffs filed an emergency motion to remand their case back to the Maryland court because it makes no federal claims, said Public Justice Center attorney Sally Dworak-Fisher.
“Removal is so misleading, in fact, that it suggests Defendants are attempting to delay resolution of this case in state court, rather than invoking federal jurisdiction, which plainly does not exist,” plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote in their motion to remand.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett approved the remand request Thursday evening. A Circuit Court hearing time and date will be decided on soon, Dworak-Fisher said.
But plaintiffs are asking for an emergency hearing, which most likely would happen Friday, she said.
Plaintiffs are demanding that Hogan take back his decision to halt pandemic federal unemployment benefits and immediately notify the U.S. Department of Labor that Maryland will continue to participate in the federal programs.
This development comes a week after the Unemployed Workers Union filed a separate lawsuit which challenges Hogan’s decision to halt federal unemployment benefits early and also demands that plaintiffs receive unemployment benefits immediately, as well as adequate communication from the Department of Labor.
There have been more than 2,000 grievances filed, said Alec Summerfield, who is representing the Unemployed Workers Union pro bono.
“This is not just about a legal maneuver — it’s about getting justice for people who have not received any unemployment benefits for over a year and who are at their wits’ end,” Summerfield said.
A hearing for the union’s case was scheduled for Friday morning by Judge Bennett, but Summerfield said he withdrew it Thursday afternoon.
“After strategizing with some other attorneys, we decided we’d be better off in state court, so we withdrew our case from federal court voluntarily,” he said.
Most likely there will be a consolidated hearing Friday afternoon with the plaintiffs from the other case, Summerfield said.
They hope the judge will prevent Hogan from ending federal unemployment benefits while the case is being litigated, he continued.
If a hearing is granted tomorrow, a judge could decide that plaintiffs have not shown Hogan’s order will cause irreparable harm, which would mean that the federal unemployment benefits will end on Saturday as planned, Summerfield said.
Or a judge could find that Hogan’s order will cause irreparable harm and issue a temporary restraining order to preclude the end of federal benefits until the case can be decided.
The Unemployed Workers Union first filed their lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, but the Maryland Attorney General’s Office moved this case to the federal court on Wednesday, contending that the lawsuit involved claims under federal laws.
Summerfield said he believes that the state court can handle the case and said he saw the move as a strategy to delay the lawsuit.
“We find it disappointing that this last-minute notice of removal was an attempt to run out the clock on this case,” Summerfield said.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the pending litigation, but said that the state hired law firm Venable LLP to represent Hogan in the lawsuit.
Maryland workers are not alone in trying to stop their governor from ending benefits early. Earlier this week, an Indiana judge ruled that the state must continue paying enhanced unemployment benefits until the court makes a final decision in a similar lawsuit.
Dworak-Fisher said she hopes they will succeed before the benefits are set to stop Saturday. “I think we have a strong case, and we hope that the court sees it the same way,” she said.