IDOL Wage Claim
Did Not Bar Suit
Plaintiff could Claim
First, then Sue
The Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (the “Act”) allows workers to claim final wages. Workers have the option of going to court. In Krause v USA DocuFinish et al, 2015 IL App (3d) 130585 (March 11) Krause first went to the IDOL for unpaid vacation, in 2011, and then sued in small claims court (in 2012). His complaint sought enforcement of a finding that his former employer owed him final wages, and in a second court claimed more money under the Act. He also sued for breach of contract and “interference with contract of employment.”
The issue was whether his small claims suit was foreclosed by the investigation and finding by the Illinois Department of Labor.
Section 14 of the Act states, in part:
Any employee not timely paid wages, final compensation, or wage supplements by his or her employee as required by this Act shall be entitled to recover through a claim filed with the Department of Labor or in a civil action, but not both, the amount of any such underpayments and damages of 2% of the amount of any such underpayments for each month following the date of payment during which such underpayments remain unpaid. In a civil action, such employee shall also recover costs and all reasonable attorney’s fees [emphasis added].
The IDOL issued a wage payment demand to the employer and both parties filed exceptions, DocuFinish wanting to pay nothing, Krause wanting to get more. The IDOL declined to modify its finding. When Krause sued in the county circuit court, DocuFinish moved to dismiss. The trial court granted the motion on the basis of Section 14.
On appeal Krause argued that Section 14 is a remedial provision that limits only the amount that a plaintiff may recover under the Act, not a jurisdictional provision. The employer argued that Krause had to live with the choice he made, and could not get a second avenue of redress in court.
The court agreed with Krause. Noting that DocuFinish conceded that the IDOL demand was not enforceable in court, the court of appeals reasoned that holding a plaintiff like Krause to his election of first going to the Department of Labor was inequitable. The court noted that Section 11 of the Act permitted private causes of action “without regard to exhaustion of any alternative administrative remedies provided in this Act.”
The court distinguished a case in which the sole claim in court was to force the employer to honor the wage payment demand issued by the IDOL. The wage payment demand was merely part of the agency’s investigative function. Here, Krause was not only suing to force the employer to pay the wages demanded, but for a larger amount he claimed was due under the Act, for breach of contract and other claims.