New Mexico workers will gain new opportunities and leverage to pursue wage-theft claims against employers under a settlement approved Friday.
The agreement resolves a lawsuit alleging that the Department of Workforce Solutions failed to enforce provisions of the state's Minimum Wage Act by improperly dismissing complaints of missing wages, failing to pursue claims over $10,000 and not holding employers liable for damages.
The settlement, approved by Judge David Thomson on Friday, lifts the $10,000 cap on unpaid-wage claims and would bolster requirements that negligent employers pay back unpaid wages three-fold.
The settlement does not resolve specific wage-theft claims, but allows claims that were rejected improperly in recent years to be filed again for investigation by the Division of Labor Relations.
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The settlement was endorsed Friday by several victims of alleged wage theft, who spoke at a court hearing in Santa Fe of being turned away by state investigators. No one voiced opposition to the settlement.
"I look forward to my case moving forward and finally getting the justice and the wages that I deserve," said Madeline Cadman, a resident of Tohlakai on the Navajo reservation. She says she is owed $40,000 in unpaid wages from a home care services provider.
Elizabeth Wagoner of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, lead counsel for plaintiffs in the case, said the settlement may result in workplace-wide enforcement action as worker case files are reviewed.
Daniel Apodaca, private counsel for Workforce Solutions, said a new investigations manual is being written to outline claim procedures for the public as well as investigators at the Division of Labor Relations.
The state has agreed to provide non-English language services for wage-theft claims and begin accepting wage complaints in remote communities through a network of more than 20 New Mexico Workforce Connection Centers.