Supreme Court Hears Arguments to Sort Out CWCA

Case over state wage claims ‘affects all employers and employees in Colorado’

Colorado’s wage claim law has a statute of limitations that reaches back only as far as three years. But courts can’t seem to agree whether that statute of limitations actually bars any unpaid wage claims once an employee is fired.

The trouble is that the Colorado Wage Claim Act could be construed as having conflicting sections —one stating a statute of limitations on unpaid wage claims and another that declares all unpaid wages due upon termination. This confusion arose in a case where migrant farm workers are suing a Platteville-based farm owner for unpaid overtime, among other allegations. The plaintiffs say the CWCA entitles them to all unpaid wages throughout the time they worked there, which for three of them was from 1992 to 2016.

The Colorado Supreme Court is now looking at whether the CWCA allows an employee, once terminated, to sue the employer for all past-due wages owed even if the law’s statute of limitations would otherwise bar the claim and regardless of how long ago those wages should have been paid. State and federal courts have varied on this issue, but the Supreme Court has a chance to limit the amount of damages employers face in individual CWCA suits.

The case at hand, Hernandez, et al. v. Ray Domenico Farms, et al., didn’t get to the Supreme Court by appeal. Rather, District Judge William Martinez of the District of Colorado sua sponte asked the Supreme Court to take up the issue in April after each party filed for summary judgment. In the order certifying the question to the Supreme Court, Martinez said the apparent conflict “affects all employers and employees in Colorado.”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the January 15, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.