Court order will stop flow of unemployment records

Posted June 13, 2014

Growing numbers of N.C. residents are searching for work and collecting unemployment benefits at Employment Security Commission offices.

— The state Division of Employment Security will stop providing daily bundles of unemployment claim cases to lawyers, thanks to an order handed down this week by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. 

That order is the latest turn in a case that puts the division in a tug-of-war between an order by the U.S. Department of Labor and a state Superior Court judge. 

"Our agency always tries to respect authority, and now the North Carolina Court of Appeals removes DES from between a legal rock and a hard place," Assistant Secretary of Commerce Dale Folwell, who heads the division, said in a statement.

The division administers unemployment claims filed by workers when they lose their jobs. Claims that are rejected may be appealed.

For years, the division has handed out notices of those appeals to lawyers who pick them up every day. Those lawyers then use the notices to advertise their services to clients, some of whom get the legal advertisement before the official agency notice. 

When the division moved to change its daily distribution practice earlier this year, Durham lawyer Monica Wilson sued, saying the division was violating North Carolina's public records laws. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Labor said the state should stop providing those records entirely, saying the practice violated the privacy rights of those seeking unemployment compensation. 

When a state court ordered that the division should keep providing the letters, the division found itself stuck.

The Court of Appeals order allows the division to comply with the Labor Department.

"Beginning June 16, 2014, DES will cease the practice of providing copies of hearing notices on a daily basis to anyone other than those who already are a party to an appeal or their designated attorney(s) who are representing them," says a news release from the division. "This practice will remain in place indefinitely unless ordered otherwise by appropriate court order. Both parties are anticipated to appear in Wake County Superior Court again on this matter in August."

If and when the parties do return to court, the law is likely to have changed. A package of changes to the state unemployment laws is close to passing the legislature and would change the state's public records laws to exempt unemployment appeals.


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