Over the past five years, 15 disabled employees have sued Washington state for terminating their worker’s compensation benefits after completion of a state-contracted retraining program at the unaccredited school Office Careers, Seattle news station KING5 has found.
The findings support KING5’s investigation that identified more than two dozen injured workers with similar experiences.
The Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals Court ruled against the Washington Department of Labor and Injuries (L&I) in all 15 cases, concluding that Office Careers, which has been paid more L&I money to retrain workers than any other school in the state, didn’t teach the skills necessary to prepare candidates for new careers. The graduation certificates were therefore meaningless in the eyes of the judges and didn’t justify cutting workers’ comp benefits.
The appeals court ordered L&I to reverse the rulings and reinstate benefits in all 15 cases.
The KING5 investigation that L&I steered millions of dollars to the unaccredited school despite a lack of evidence that the retraining prepared students for the workforce. Of the 30 students interviewed by KING5, 28 said they learned nothing from the school, but were given graduation certificates anyway, at which point their L&I benefits ended.
Some students who didn’t even complete the Office Careers course were issued certificates of completion.
In the case of Spanish-speaking Francisco Navarro, who injured his shoulder working at Microsoft, the state-contracted vocational counselor assigned to his case played up the Office Careers training, calling Navarro an “excellent candidate for motor vehicle dispatching” because of his “new computer skills” and ability to communicate “fluently in English.” Navarro told KING5 he doesn’t speak English and L&I and Office Careers knew it.
While Navarro did prevail in his appeal last year, he’s still fighting L&I to resume benefits, which have been suspended for two years, his attorney told KING5.
“(Giving him a certificate) is laughable,” Navarro’s attorney Joey Reibel said. “The system tried to treat him as a number and push him into a box. It’s saddening and infuriating. He was set up to fail from the get-go.”
Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us at if you have a question about your employment status, or if you have an L&I, workers’ comp, injury, or employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.