Proposed settlement reached in Queens, disability benefits bias case

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As many as 4,000 disability benefits cases may be reheard as part of a proposed settlement, filed in federal court on January 11, to a class action lawsuit that alleged that five administrative law judges based in Queens, New York unfairly denied numerous claims.

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The lawsuit, filed in April 2011, accused the five judges of “imposing a brick wall of bias” by systematically denying benefits to qualified individuals. Noting that the Queens Office of Disability Adjudication and Review rejected as many as 49 percent of disability benefits claims between 2005 and 2009, compared to 19 percent in neighboring Brooklyn, the lawsuit alleged that that the judges violated the Social Security Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

Under the proposed settlement, individuals whose claims were fully, or partially, denied will be entitled to a new hearing with a different judge, according to a Reuters article.

Although the settlement does not include the original lawsuit’s request for the judges to lose their jobs, the five judges would be recertified and retrained by the Social Security Administration, as well as monitored thereafter.

“I can’t even breathe telling you how important this is. I’m in tears. People were in so much trouble. People were very much in pain,” Toby Marlow, a plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit and the legal guardian of her sister, Judith Blumensohn, who has schizophrenia, told the New York Times.

The Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project and Gibson Crutcher & Dunn brought the lawsuit on behalf of the eight plaintiffs who had been denied benefits. The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.