The New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (WHL) and the New Jersey Wage Payment Law (WPL) require that New Jersey workers be timely paid for all wages earned including, but not limited to, being paid an overtime rate of 1½ times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 during a workweek. On August 9, 2019 New Jersey adopted the Wage Theft Act (WFT) which effectively amended the WHL and WPL to permit recovery of unpaid wages from two (2) years to a six (6) year prior to the commencement of a lawsuit seeking to recover such unpaid wages and stated that employees are permitted to recover of all wages due “… plus an amount of liquidated damages equal to not more than 200 percent of the wages lost or of the wages due, together with costs and reasonable attorney’s fees as are allowed by the court …” (emphasis added).

While employed by IEW Construction Group (IEW) as laborers Mashel Law’s clients Christopher Maia and Sean Howarth complained to the company that they were not being paid for pre-shit and post-shift work they were directed to perform. Their complaints were ignored, and therefore, Messrs. Maia and Howarth continued to perform pre-shift and post-shift duties without pay until their employment with IEW ended.

On April 13, 2022, over two and a half years after the WTA amendments of August 6, 2019, Mashel Law filed a Class Action Complaint and Jury Demand in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Middlesex County against IEW on behalf of Messrs. Maia and Howarth and those similarly situated workers alleging, among others, that IEW violated the WHL and WPL by failing to pay Plaintiffs Maia and Howarth and the putative class members for pre-shift and post-shift work. Even though Plaintiffs filed their Complaint after the WTA was enacted, IEW filed a motion to partially dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleging Plaintiffs could not recover damages prior to the August 6, 2019 and cannot use the six-year look back period provided by the WTA.

On July 15, 2022, an Order was entered by the Motion Court granting IEW’s motion to partially dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint holding the WTA should not be applied retroactively and therefore finding Plaintiffs and the putative class members (1) cannot recover damages related to alleged unpaid overtime wages occurring prior to August 6, 2019; (2) cannot obtain liquidated damages under the WHL and WPL prior to August 6, 2019; and (3) cannot recover attorneys’ fees under the WPL for alleged violations occurring prior to August 6, 2019.

On appeal Mashel Law argued the Motion Court committed reversible error when it granted IEW’s motion to partially dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint with prejudice. This is because Plaintiffs were and are seeking prospective application of the WTA. Considering that since 1966 it has been unlawful in the State of New Jersey for employers to fail to pay employees’ overtime, Mashel Law argued the Motion Court either overlooked, or did not recognize how the WTA only provided additional remedies under the WHL and WPL and did not provide additional rights, nor did it create a new cause of action.

The Appellate Division agreed with Mashel Law’s arguments and reversed the Motion Court’s partial dismissal of Plaintiffs’ Complaint in a written published decision entitled Maia, et al. v. IEW Construction Group, 2023 N.J. Super. LEXIS 20 (App. Div.  2023). In doing so, the Appellate Division held:

“We conclude the Legislature intended to provide “the same opportunity” for aggrieved workers  to recover for violations of the WPL as it did for violations under the WHL. That includes the same six-year period wherein workers may recover liquidated damages, costs, and counsel fees through a civil proceeding “in a court of appropriate jurisdiction,” measured from the date the suit commenced. N.J.S.A. 34:11-56a25.1.”

Id. at *10-*11.

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“Plaintiffs filed their complaint nearly twenty months after Chapter 212’s [WTA’s] effective date, and they are entitled to have the court apply the provisions of the WPL and WHL as of the date of that filing. “Applying the law in effect at the time a complaint is filed . . . is not applying a statute retroactively; it is applying a statute prospectively to cases filed after its effective date.”[W.S. v. Hildreth, 252 N.J. 506 (2023)] Id. at 522, 287 A.3d 421. We therefore reverse the order under review.”

Id. at *15.

As of the writing of this article, IEW has expressed an intent to file a Motion with the New Jersey Supreme Court seeking leave to appeal this published Appellate Division decision.

At Mashel Law LLC, we are experienced in handling individual and class action New Jersey Wage Payment and Wage and Hour Law claims. If you believe your employer unlawfully withheld regular or overtime wages you were legally entitled to, call the attorneys at Mashel Law (732) 536-6161, or fill out the contact form on this page for immediate help in assessing whether you have an actionable claim against your employer. At Mashel Law, LLC, located in Marlboro, New Jersey, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees.

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