A lawsuit accusing the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions of failing to enforce wage laws will go forward, a state judge has ruled, despite a motion from the agency to dismiss the case.

First District Court Judge David Thomson also extended a temporary restraining order that prohibits the department from denying certain types of wage complaints — including those claiming more than $10,000 in damages and those more than a year old — until the case is settled.

The class-action lawsuit filed in January claims the department has allowed businesses to get away with paying workers less than the minimum wage and cheating employees out of overtime pay. The suit also says the agency has adopted polices that allow it to dismiss and deny wage-theft claims for reasons that are not supported by state law — such as the amount of money a worker claims he or she is owed.

The suit was filed jointly by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, several workers rights groups and Somos Un Pueblo Unido on behalf of four workers.

One of the workers named in the lawsuit, José Olivas, claims he is owed about $15,000 for working 65- to 100-hour weeks helping a man remodel a restaurant in Farmington in 2014.

The Department of Workforce Solutions filed a motion in February seeking to dismiss the suit, arguing that the court didn’t have the authority to order to change policies made by department officials.

The judge disagreed in a written order filed April 26.

“Respectfully, the statutory language is clear,” Thomson wrote in his order denying the department’s motion to dismiss the case. “This Court must give effort to statutes as written.”

The plaintiffs lauded Thomson’s decision, which will allow the case to proceed.

Marco Nuñez, a workers justice coordinator at El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, one of the workers rights organizations involved in the suit, said in an email Friday that the agency’s “failure to enforce New Mexico’s wage and hour laws is one more example of how hard working New Mexicans are getting the short end of the stick in our state — but they are fighting back.”

“This case is too important to dismiss,” Nuñez continued, “particularly given the profound impact wage theft has on New Mexican working families. We applaud the ruling and look forward to continuing to expose systemic failures by DWS to enforce New Mexico wage and hour laws.”

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter at @phaedraann.

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