Friday, December 7, 2007

Justice Brister dissents on worker's right to get paid

The Texas Legislature passed the Payday Law to give unpaid workers a quick alternative to lengthy civil litigation. But today the Court holds they lose everything if they pursue that alternative a little too late, even though years remain to file suit in court. This is not about biting apples twice; this is about a man’s wages, a claim that like many others can be filed a second time if the first disposition was not on the merits. By holding Payday claims dismissed for tardiness cannot be refiled in court, the Court converts a law giving extra options to workers into a trap where they may forfeit all their rights. Because I agree with the state agency entrusted with these claims that this could not possibly be what the Legislature intended, I respectfully dissent.

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The Legislature has chosen to give Texans asserting Payday claims two different ways to proceed. That being the case, this Court has no business saying that if they try one too late, then they get none at all. The Commission properly dismissed Igal’s Payday claim as late, but that does not preclude his common law claim which was filed on time. Because the Court holds otherwise, I respectfully dissent.
Scott Brister

Should workers get paid - and if not - be able to vindicate their rights in Texas courts?

Texas Supreme Court adds new weapon to the arsenal of legal doctrines to invoke against workers by adapting res judicata principles to bar a unpaid-wage claim based on a prior agency ruling, rather than a judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Igal v. Brightstar Info Tech Group, Inc. NO. 04-0931 (Tex. Dec. 7, 2007)(Wainwright)
SALEH W. IGAL v. BRIGHTSTAR INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY GROUP, INC. AND BRBA, INC.; from Dallas County; 11th district (11‑03‑00099‑CV, 140 SW3d 820, 06‑30‑04)

The Court affirms the court of appeals' judgment.Justice Wainwright delivered the opinion of the Court as to Parts I, II, III, IV.A, IV.B.2, and V, in which Justice Green, Justice Johnson, Justice Willett, and Justice McCoy joined, and an opinion as to Part IV.B.1, in which Justice Green, Justice Johnson, and Justice Willett joined.

Igal had the option of seeking relief for alleged unpaid wages in an administrative proceeding under the Payday Day Law or pursuing a common law debt action in state court. He chose the former. Only after TWC entered a final judgment on the merits, which Igal elected not to appeal, did Igal seek redress in the courts. We hold that the doctrine of res judicata bars Igal from pursuing relief in a court of law after obtaining a final decision in TWC for the same transaction. We therefore affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

J. Dale Wainwright

Justice Brister delivered a dissenting opinion, in which Chief Justice Jefferson, Justice O'Neill, and Justice Medina joined. (Justice Bob McCoy sitting by appointment pursuant to section 22.005 of the Texas Government Code)(Justice Hecht not sitting)

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