Are Utah Wage Claims Filed with the Labor Commission or in Court?

The Utah Payment of Wages Act (UPWA) provides for two forums in which state wage claims may be filed: the Wage Claim Unit of the Utah Labor Commission and the state and federal trial courts.

Wage claims under the UPWA must be filed with the Labor Commission if they seek $10,000 or less. One of the primary benefits to filing with Labor Commission is that its process is designed to accommodate self-represented claimants. The Labor Commission even assists successful claimants with collection.

UPWA claims for more than $10,000 must be filed in court. Filing in court is convenient for employees who are represented by counsel, who have complex claims, or who wish to assert their UPWA claims alongside claims under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

There are two circumstances in which an employee with a UPWA claim for $10,000 or less or may file the claim in court rather than in the Labor Commission:

  1. If the employee is filing other claims against the same employer and the damages resulting from all the claims is greater than $10,000 or
  2. If a group of employees files a lawsuit together and their combined wage claim is for more than $10,000.

See Utah Code ยงย 34-28-9.5.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Utah has grappled with the question of how to apply these rules in class actions. Plaintiffs have argued that a class claim should be valued based on all potential class members. This method seems appropriate if the purpose of the $10,000 threshold is to separate small, simple claims from more complex claims. The problem is that the Defendant usually seeks dismissal based on claim size at the beginning of the case, before the class has not been certified. Thus, the size of the class and, therefore, the claim, is still uncertain. Defendants have argued that only the claims of the named class members should be aggregated for purpose of determining whether the $10,000 threshold has been reached. The problem with this position is that it effectively prohibits class actions where individual claim size is modest. In 2018, I was involved in a case in which this issue arose, and District Judge Robert Shelby ruled that only the claims of the named class members could be considered for purposes of determining whether the $10,000 threshold had been reached. The UPWA claim was therefore dismissed. See Cazeau et al v. TPUSA, Inc., Case No. 2:18-cv-00321, Doc. 22, 23, 25, 31-34.