Flores de Vega v. Oregon Employment Department
Class Action Lawsuit

General Information

In July, 2020, the Oregon Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Employment Department on behalf of 10 courageous Oregonians because the agency was taking an unreasonably long time to pay out unemployment benefits or issue official benefit denials, and because the Oregon Employment Department did not make unemployment benefits accessible to people who don’t speak English.   At that time, most of our clients had been waiting for months and months for their unemployment checks.  

In August, the Oregon Employment Department admitted that tens of thousands of Oregonians were still waiting for their unemployment benefits, and were going to have to keep waiting because the “system” was overwhelmed.  For this reason, Oregon Law Center asked the court to make the lawsuit a “class action” so that we could represent everyone in Oregon who is suffering this unreasonable delay. 

The court agreed that the lawsuit should be a class action.  Now, any Oregonian who applied or tried to apply for benefits since March 2020 and has been waiting for more than 4 weeks for any week of benefits is included in the “class” and covered by the lawsuit. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Flores de Vega v. Oregon Employment Department

This lawsuit was filed on behalf of Oregon claimants who have been waiting too long for a final decision (payment or denial) on their applications for unemployment benefits since the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency. The lawsuit is a class action, which means the lawsuit is designed to help not just the named petitioners but also the more than 100,000 Oregonians who are still waiting for a final decision on their claims for unemployment benefits.  

The petitioners are 14 Oregonians who lost their jobs during or just before the COVID-19 emergency. Some applied for regular unemployment insurance benefits, which existed before the emergency. Others applied for new COVID-19 unemployment benefits, such as PUA and PEUC. Most waited many months without a decision on their claims.

The petitioners filed this lawsuit under the Oregon Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), the law that governs state agencies like the Oregon Employment Department. One provision of the APA gives Oregon courts the power to order an agency to act when it has “unreasonably delayed” making a decision or taking action. Petitioners allege that waiting many months for benefits or an unemployment benefits decision is an “unreasonable delay” under the APA.

The goal is to force OED to make a final decision about (pay or deny) claims faster. Specifically, the lawsuit asks the court to order OED to: 

  1. Make a final decision by November 15, 2020, on claims filed before June 1, 2020,

  2. Make a final decision by December 15, 2020, on claims filed between June 1 and September 30, 2020;

  3. Make a final decision by January 1, 2021, on claims filed between between September 30, 2020, and the date the court issues its summary judgment order; and

  4. Go back to meeting federal timeliness rules (most claims reach final decision within 3 weeks) by the end of February 2021.

You are already a member of the class covered by the lawsuit if you have been waiting at least 4 weeks for payment or a decision on at least one week of unemployment benefits. This means that if you have been waiting 4 weeks or longer, you are automatically included in the class, and so you are already covered by the lawsuit.  

The petitioners have filed a motion for summary judgment. This means that the petitioners and OED have a chance to show the court the evidence they would present if there were a trial. If the court looks at that evidence and decides that is proves the delays are unreasonable “as a matter of law,” which means that there is no way OED could show at trial that the delays are reasonable, then petitioners will win the case and there will not be a trial.

We hope to get a summary judgment decision from the court in December. You can check this website for updates about the court’s decision.

No. Unfortunately, there is no potential for money damages in this case. However, the goal of the case is for all eligible claimants to get their benefits faster.

They are posted here on this website.  See summaries and links to the actual documents filed in this case below.  

Original Complaint

This is the complaint that started the lawsuit. Thirteen people filed the complaint against the Oregon Employment Department and David Gerstenfeld (the Acting Director of the Oregon Employment Department).  It contains three claims: 

        1. The  Oregon Employment Department took too long to pay benefits or give a final decision.
        2. The Oregon Employment Department violated people’s rights because they are not paying benefits.  They are also not sending a final denial letter that people could use to challenge the decision at a hearing.
        3. The Oregon Employment Department did not do enough to make the unemployment benefits information available to people who do not speak English.   Essentially, the people named in the complaint asked the Court to order the Oregon Employment Department make decisions faster and to take action to improve language access.

[Oregon Law Center]

Amended Complaint

Before Oregon Employment Department answered our original complaint, the Oregon Law Center, on behalf of the people named and on behalf of other people in a similar situation, filed an Amended Complaint. The Amended Complaint also included a few more people—known as Petitioners.  The claims are the same as in the original complaint but the Amended Complaint includes allegations that the problems that the original petitioners were experiencing, such as long delays, were happening to many, many people. Oregon Law Center asked for an order from the Court that would apply to everyone who was experiencing the same or similar problems. The Amended Petition included information to show that the Oregon Employment Department’s actions or inactions affected many people in Oregon.

[Oregon Law Center]

Motion for Class Certification

The OLC, on behalf of the people named in the complaint and those in similar situations, filed a motion for class certification; this means we asked the Court to certify a class action.  This means that any relief, such as a court order, would apply not just to the people named in the complaint but also to everyone who falls into the definition of the class.  In this case, the class is defined as:

All individuals who have been partially or totally unemployed between March 1, 2020, and the present; have applied or attempted to apply for unemployment benefits distributed by the Oregon Employment Department; and have been waiting longer than four weeks since applying or attempting to apply without receiving either payment, or a denial, for at least one week of benefits other than the initial waiting week.

Oregon Employment Division originally challenged certain aspects of our motion but then withdrew those challenges and we agreed to remove two of the subclasses for purposes of the Court’s Order (not permanently) and the Court granted (Ordered) that the main class and one subclass (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) be certified (see Order Approving Class Certification below). 

[Oregon Law Center]

The State’s Motion to Dismiss:

The Oregon Employment Department moved to dismiss the entire lawsuit.  Their reasons why the lawsuit should be dismissed included that the lawsuit is “moot,” meaning that the court cannot provide any additional relief because they have paid benefits to all the petitioners.  Oregon Law Center argued that because Oregon has a law that allows a court to go forward with a case when the government is doing something illegal that is “capable of repetition, yet evading review,” the Judge could allow the case to continue.  The Oregon Employment Department moved quickly to pay the petitioners but tens of thousands of people are still waiting for benefits. The Judge denied the Oregon Employment Department’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and therefore, the lawsuit continues.

[State of Oregon]

[Oregon Law Center]

Summary Judgment:

The petitioners have filed a motion for summary judgment. This means that the petitioners and OED have a chance to show the court the evidence they would present if there were a trial. If the court looks at that evidence and decides that is proves the delays are unreasonable “as a matter of law,” which means that there is no way OED could show at trial that the delays are reasonable, then petitioners will win the case and there will not be a trial. 

We hope to get a summary judgment decision from the court in December. You can check this website for updates about the court’s decision.

[Oregon Law Center]