PORTLAND — The head of the top appeals board at the Department of Labor said Thursday that unemployment claims officers at a lower level of appeals are “repeatedly” omitting evidence and testimony, which is resulting in unfair hearings.
Jennifer Duddy, chairwoman of the Unemployment Insurance Commission, said she and Gov. Paul LePage shared those concerns with hearing officers at a March 21 luncheon hosted by LePage at the Blaine House.
The Sun Journal reported Thursday that a number of Labor Department employees allege LePage had pressured hearing officers at that luncheon to rule more appeals in favor of employers and fewer in favor of workers.
Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette said Thursday that she and LePage have fielded many complaints from both business owners and workers who felt the hearing process was flawed.
Duddy and Paquette, who attended the luncheon (Paquette for only half an hour), said they felt LePage's tone was cordial. They said they didn't get the impression LePage was seeking to make the outcome of hearing officers' cases more favorable to the business community, as alleged by other sources who said they felt intimidated by the governor at that luncheon.
Paquette suggested the appeals system at her department was broken and ought to be fixed.
Duddy said she and the two other members of the Unemployment Insurance Commission felt there was a troubling trend of appeals coming to them from the Division of Administrative Hearings in which evidence and testimony that should have been considered had been excluded by hearing officers. Of the three members of the commission, one is designated to represent labor and one is designated to represent business. The chairman has no designation. All three members are appointed by the governor.
When she approached the chief hearing officer about the apparent problem, she said she was told the hearing officers “don't answer to the commission.”