ALBUQUERQUE — A New Mexico state judge for First Judicial Court recently issued an important ruling to allow a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Workforce Solution (DWS) to proceed, a major first victory for workers’ rights groups across the state. The claim alleges that the DWS fails to enforce New Mexico’s wage and labor laws, putting thousands of vulnerable workers at risk for wage theft in many industries where the practice is all too common.
According to the complaint filed by El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, New Mexico Comunidades en Accion y de Fé (CAFÉ), Organizers in the Land of Enchantment (OLÉ), and Somos Un Pueblo Unido, DWS consistently fails to enforce New Mexico’s wage laws. The lack of enforcement stems from internal policies making it difficult for the Department to perform its duties, despite being empowered with some of the most stringent wage and labor protections in the entire country.
Those wage and labor protections include statutory damages to victims of wage theft consisting of full back wages with interest and double those damages. Furthermore, the law provides a minimum three-year statute of limitations on wage theft claims and a mandate for DWS to take action on behalf of low-income workers unable to afford private attorneys.
State Regulators Put Illegal Restrictions on Wage Theft Investigations
The lawsuit alleges that DWS imposed several illegal restrictions on when and how regulators could investigate wage theft claims. Those allegations include a $10,000 minimum on lost wages to spur investigation and an illegal one-year statute of limitations. Additionally, the claim asserts DWS eliminated financial deterrents by ignoring statutory statutory damages during the administrative process.
The judge is expected to hand down a final ruling sometime this summer, hopefully bringing an end to the department’s alleged indifference to wage and labor laws. While most state regulators vigorously enforce overtime pay laws, the New Mexico case is a curious exceptions that should soon be done away with.
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