With Saturday's deadline approaching, state officials say fewer than 35,000 of the estimated 115,000 eligible women have applied for their share of a $26-million class-action settlement for workers who were improperly denied unemployment benefits.
Women who can show that they were not aware of the program until after the deadline have until Oct. 15 to make late applications, according to Ralph Hilton, assistant chief counsel for the Employment Development Department. Hilton added that the "good cause" exemption will be "liberally interpreted."
The multimillion-dollar award stems from a suit filed by Betty Boren, a Kern County waitress who was denied state unemployment benefits when she quit her job after her hours were changed and she could not find a baby sitter who could accommodate her new schedule.
Boren's suit claimed that many women like herself were denied unemployment benefits between August, 1968, and December, 1976, because they left work for domestic reasons or because their income was routinely determined by the state not to be the sole or major source of their families' support, said Charles Elsesser, one of Boren's attorneys.
In 1976, the state Court of Appeal ruled that the law used by the state to deny benefits to Boren and thousands of other women was unconstitutional. In 1981, the state Supreme Court certified Boren's settlement as a class-action suit, paving the way for the program to distribute the back unemployment benefits.
Successful applicants will get between $700 and $1,200, said Richard Pearl, another attorney for Boren.
Pearl said the application period, which officially began June 3, should have been longer and that more effort should have been made to publicize the settlement. "We miscalculated," Pearl said.
The state spent $70,000 advertising the settlement, according to Don Solem & Associates, the firm that handled the job.