If your Social Security Disability claim was denied, and your reconsideration request about that denial was also denied, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). While the hearing should be focused on the evidence, sometimes ALJs appear to be biased or even hostile to applicants.
You should learn what bias at one of these hearings looks like, so you will know when you are being treated unfairly. That way you can take action against the ALJ to help prevent others from being treated in the same manner. This could also help you when you appeal the ALJ's decision.
If you need assistance appealing your ALJ decision, contact our disability attorneys for a free, no obligation consultation.
What Bias Looks Like
Bias by an ALJ during a hearing can be subtle or sometimes quite obvious. The following are examples of potential actions that could mean you are not receiving a fair hearing:
- The judge does not consider evidence submitted right before or at your hearing.
- You as the applicant are not permitted to testify or cross-examine a witness.
- The judge speaks to you in a hostile way.
- The judge does not recuse himself or herself even though there is a conflict of interest.
What to do when the ALJ is Biased
If you believe the ALJ is biased against you, take action while at your hearing.
- Do not make the situation worse by acting with hostility in return – stay calm.
- Create evidence of the bias. Audio is typically recorded but not video – if a judge's statements or actions are not caught by recording, attempt to state on record what has happened.
- Stay at your hearing until it is finished – if you leave early because you feel you are being treated unfairly, you could be considered partially at fault for a failure to receive a complete and fair hearing.
Steps to Take After the Hearing
After your hearing is over, you may file a complaint with the Division of Quality Service (DQS), which is a Social Security department responsible for the investigation of ALJ conduct allegations. This must be submitted in writing within 180 days of the date the alleged misconduct occurred or the date you became aware of it. Make sure to include as many details as possible to assist with the investigation of your complaint.
If you feel the ALJ's conduct was discriminatory and based on protected factors, a complaint may be made to the Social Security Administration's Office of General Counsel (OGC) within 180 days. Protected factors include:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
The OGC typically makes decisions on complaints within 180 days.
You can also notify the Appeals Council about how you feel you were not treated fairly. Get a copy of the audio recording from your hearing and review it. Cite examples from the recording of when you feel you were not treated fairly. Explain what the judge did or said that you feel was improper.
How Your Complaint Will be Addressed
During an Appeals Council review, the Council can award you benefits if it finds the ALJ was biased during your hearing. The Council may also send your case back to the ALJ.
If the Appeals Council upholds the ALJ's ruling or denies your review request, your next option is to file a lawsuit in federal court against the Commissioner of Social Security.
The DQS is allowed to look beyond your case's scope to investigate complaints. This means the DQS may look to see if the ALJ has created a pattern of improper conduct or bias by looking at other cases.
Speak with Our Disability Attorneys Today
If you feel your ALJ hearing was handled unfairly, contact our Phoenix Social Security Disability lawyers for help. We work to ensure your claim is supported with the right information and that it is reviewed without bias.
Request a free, no obligation consultation today and learn your legal rights. There are no upfront fees and payment is only due if we recover compensation for you.