Colorado Supreme Court Shuts Door on Stale Wage Claims

CWCA issue draws Justice Hart’s first published opinion

In a decision that potentially affects all employers and workers in Colorado, the state’s highest court ruled that employees, when fired, can’t seek unpaid wages going back further than two or three years.

The Colorado Supreme Court unanimously rejected a plaintiff group’s argument that a certain section of the Colorado Wage Claim Act enabled them to sue their former employer for all unpaid wages once they were terminated. The plaintiffs in Hernandez v. Ray Domenico Farms argued that section of CWCA revived wage claims that would otherwise be time-barred if the plaintiffs were still employed.

If not for the Supreme Court’s decision, Colorado-based employers might have seen more wage-and-hour claims seeking damages — and discovery — that reach back more than a decade.

Though not a common practice, employee counsel in Colorado have been known to argue that the CWCA entitles workers to all unpaid wages, even those reaching back beyond its statute of limitations, which is two years or three years for willful violations, once they are terminated. They would bring claims under Section 109 of the act and maintain that the CWCA’s statute of limitations begins running only once the employee is fired. That would essentially give fired employees an indefinite look-back period for unpaid wages that they wouldn’t have if still employed.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the March 12, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online