06/05/2013 05:19 pm ET Updated Jun 05, 2013

Florida Unemployment Agency Disputes Obama Administration's Claim It Violated Civil Rights

WASHINGTON -- Florida is fighting the Obama administration's claim that the state's workforce agency broke federal civil rights laws by making it too hard for non-English speakers and people with disabilities to claim unemployment insurance. An LGBT comics website is key to the state's case.

Suggesting the U.S. Department of Labor mistreated the agency just like the IRS mistreated Tea Party groups seeking nonprofit status, Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity asked congressional Republicans on Wednesday to investigate "potential politicization" at the U.S. Department of Labor.

The Labor Department's Civil Rights Center determined in April that Florida's unusual claims process, which requires applicants to file online and answer a series of math and reading questions, presented unfair obstacles to the protected groups of people. The Labor Department and the state workforce agency said at the time they would cooperate on fixing the problems.

But on Wednesday, Florida said it is rejecting the Labor Department's findings, claiming they were politically motivated. As evidence, the state said that an official with the Civil Rights Center has "publicly made or endorsed politically and ideologically charged statements about her role at the Department of Labor." Specifically, Florida cited a bio for department lawyer Denise Sudell on a website that promotes LGBT comic books and their authors and readers.

The bio says, "In her paying job, she's an attorney working underground (read: within the system) to keep the evil overseers of the Bush administration from dismantling U.S. federal civil rights laws." The apparently dated bio was still available online Wednesday via Google's cache.

"In other words, the USDOL CRC's Acting Chief of External Enforcement has publicly stated or endorsed the notion that she brings a political and ideological agenda to her civil-rights enforcement role in the federal government," the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said in letters to House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) and the Labor Department's independent investigator.

The Florida department also says the federal Civil Rights Center improperly collaborated with the advocacy groups that complained about the state's unemployment law.

As for the government's evidence in its case against the state, Florida is not impressed. "At most, USDOL's 'evidence' fails to demonstrate anything other than anecdotal instances of system errors, which can be reasonably expected to occur in a program that has over 1,000 employees and processed 668,664 new claims and 3.4 million calls during the calendar year 2012," the department said, adding that the Civil Rights Center's conclusions wouldn't pass muster in a statistics class for college freshmen.

A spokesman for the U.S. Labor Department declined to comment on its ongoing investigation. "We will continue to try to conciliate this matter, and the State may raise any concerns it has in this forum or others under the Department’s formal procedures," the spokesman said.

The Huffington Post obtained a version of Florida's "Initial Skills Review" for unemployment claimants in May.

This story has been updated to include comment from the U.S. Labor Department.



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