A worker’s rights coalition and New Mexico’s Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) settled a year-old lawsuit alleging the state agency failed to adequately investigate or take action on wage theft claims.
The settlement agreement outlines policy and procedural changes the state department will make. Wage theft claims against employers, for example, will now be investigated regardless of the dollar amount involved. The coalition accused DWS of avoiding action on claims worth more than $10,000 and advising employees to instead file a lawsuit against their employer. DWS also agreed to implement a more comprehensive process for workers to file claims against employers who fail to pay minimum wages, especially workers whose first language is not English. Jose “Pancho” Olivas, a named plaintiff in the case, said in a statement, that he and others in his community depend ton DWS to keep employers accountable for fair working conditions.
An Albuquerque district judge rejected challenges to the city’s minimum wage ordinance this week, saying it was simply too late to reverse something voters decided on and approved nearly five years ago. “Each and every exercise of voters’ rights and expression of voters’ choice involves our inherent and cherished rights and is entitled to the same degree of deference and protection whatever its source,” Judge Alan Malott wrote in his Wednesday decision. His decision came in a wage-theft lawsuit alleging that the former owners of Kellys Brew Pub, including Dennis Bonafontine, violated the city’s minimum wage ordinance by making workers pay $3 per hour from tips to the owners. The current owners of Kellys Brew Pub did not challenge the minimum wage and have not been named in the suit. The allegations date back to when the city’s tipped minimum wage had just spiked from $2.13 per hour to $5.16 per hour as a result of a 2012 city ballot initiative.
A judge temporarily halted a New Mexico state agency’s self-imposed limitations on wage theft claims.
In a ruling Tuesday afternoon, Santa Fe District Judge David Thomson ordered that, for now, the state Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) cannot automatically deny complaints of wage theft that total more than $10,000. The state department is also not allowed to automatically turn down claims that happened more than a year before they’re made. “Wage theft” refers to an employer denying payments owed to an employee in any way, which can include paying below minimum wage and refusing to pay overtime, for example. Thomson’s temporary restraining order against the state comes because of a class-action lawsuit filed just two weeks ago by “low income workers” who made wage theft claims against their employers to DWS. Ten individuals named in the lawsuit allege that DWS’ handling of their wage theft claims violate multiple state laws.