In 2011, a class-action lawsuit was filed against a select number of Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) in Queens, New York. The allegations at hand? Bias. Thousands of disabled residents from Queens who were denied Social Security Disability benefits may have a chance to have their claims reheard, if the recent proposed settlement is accepted.
The ALJs in Queens, on average, deny a lot of disability claims. In fact, their denial rates have been noted in the past to be the highest in the state of New York and among the highest in the country. While ALJs, as a whole, tend to have a greater ability to use their judgment during a hearing than other types of judges, it's safe to say that the ability to use their judgment doesn't give them full rein to use prejudice and be unfair.
The class-action lawsuit claimed that five ALJs did just that--they allowed their prejudices and bias to interfere with their ability to make fair and just decisions. According to a recent article posted in the New York Times, the ALJs "trivialized the applicants' physical and mental impairments and subjected them to harsh questioning that often brought them to tears."
A settlement to the class-action case was recently proposed and accepted by both the plaintiffs and the Social Security Administration. The SSA has agreed to remove the ALJs in question from the cases, and an estimated 4,000+ claims would be reconsidered before a new ALJ. The article states that, "As part of the settlement, the administration would enact new policies against bias and establish a special unit to monitor disability claims for the next 30 months."
The terms of the settlement aren't final yet--they need to be approved by a federal judge first. And, if they are, disability applicants from the Queens who had their claims heard and denied between January 2008 and the date of the settlement will be eligible to have their claims reconsidered.
Source: New York Times, "Rejected Disability Claims in Queens May Be Reheard," January 11, 2013.