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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In 1989, Saleh Igal began working for BRBA Inc. In April 1998, Igal executed an employment agreement with BRBA. Before the execution of the employment agreement, Brightstar Information Technology Group Inc. acquired BRBA and assumed BRBA’s obligations under the agreement. Igal alleges that Brightstar then terminated his employment without cause on Jan. 19, 2000, entitling him to post-termination salary. Eighteen months later, on July 17, 2001, Igal filed a wage claim with the Texas Workforce Commission, asserting a violation of his employment agreement and claiming unpaid wages, bonuses and benefits from May 2000 to January 2001. A TWC hearing officer dismissed his claim in a preliminary wage determination order. On Oct. 5, 2001, Igal requested a hearing on that determination. On Nov. 27, 2001, Dec. 27, 2001, and Feb. 14, 2002, a TWC appeals tribunal conducted hearings on Igal’s appeal, including legal argument and witnesses for both sides. On Feb. 19, 2002, TWC issued its decision, concluding that Igal’s claim failed on the merits and that TWC lacked jurisdiction, because Igal filed his claim more than 180 days after his wages became due for payment. TWC notified the parties that the decision would become final 14 days after its issuance unless one of the parties filed a motion for rehearing or sought judicial review of its decision. In lieu of filing a motion for rehearing with TWC or seeking judicial review of TWC’s decision, Igal sued Brightstar and BRBA in a Texas district court for breach of contract and declaratory judgment. Brightstar and BRBA moved for summary judgment, arguing that TWC’s final decision barred Igal’s claims through res judicata, or alternatively, that Igal failed to exhaust his administrative remedies. The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment, holding that res judicata barred Igal’s claims. The 11th Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, holding that TWC had jurisdiction over Igal’s claims, because the 180-day filing limitations period was not jurisdictional and that res judicata barred Igal’s breach of contract claims. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court noted that in 1915, the Legislature enacted the first Texas Payday Law, requiring certain types of employers promptly and regularly to pay employees the full amount of wages due. At present, Texas Labor Code �61.011 requires private employers of all types and sizes to pay wages owed to employees in full, on time and on regularly scheduled paydays. In 1989, the Legislature authorized the Texas Employment Commission (now part of TWC) to receive and adjudicate complaints for failure to pay wages owed. This amendment gives employees the option of filing in court or with TWC to recover unpaid wages. Aggrieved parties, the court stated, may appeal the initial commission preliminary wage determination order to a TWC appeals tribunal, and, after exhausting administrative remedies, appeal the commission’s final order to a court of competent jurisdiction. The court first determined that TWC had jurisdiction over Igal’s claim. It then considered whether res judicata attached to its final decision. Res judicata, the court stated, bars the relitigation of claims that have been finally adjudicated or that could have been litigated in the prior action. For res judicata to apply, the court stated that the following elements must be present: 1. a prior final judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction; 2. the same parties or those in privity with them; and 3. a second action based on the same claims as were raised or could have been raised in the first action. The court held that once a claimant, who has alternate proceedings at his disposal to obtain relief available under the Payday Law, pursues an administrative claim to a final decision, he forgoes his common-law claims. To pursue a common-law remedy for the same wages as sought in his payday claim, the court stated, a claimant must withdraw his administrative claim before the agency issues a final decision. Thus, the court held that because Igal did not withdraw his administrative claim before the TWC’s final determination, res judicata would bar his claim � if TWC’s order is considered final for the purposes of res judicata. The court then analyzed whether the order had preclusive effect. The court stated: “Even if we interpreted TWC’s decision as merely a dismissal for failure to meet the 180-day filing limitations period, we reach the same conclusion. The filing limitations period acts as a statute of limitation for Payday Law claims. A court’s dismissal of a claim because of a failure to file within the statute of limitations is accorded preclusive effect.” The court also stated that “claimants are entitled to a fair and reasonable procedure to recover unpaid wages.” It did not conclude, however, that because the Legislature created an administrative route to recovery as an alternative to a suit, that claimants are entitled to “two bites at the apple. They are entitled to a fair bite, but not two bites.” Thus, the court found that TWC was acting in a judicial capacity when it decided that Igal’s failure to timely file defeated his claims. When TWC’s decision became final, the court stated, Igal was bound by that decision. Therefore, the court held that res judicata barred Igal’s suit in district court. OPINION:Wainwright, J., delivered the opinion of the court as to parts I, II, III, IV.A, IV.B.2 and V, in which Green, Johnson, Willett and McCoy, JJ., joined, and an opinion as to Part IV.B.1, in which Green, Johnson and Willett, JJ., joined. DISSENT:Brister, J., delivered a dissenting opinion, in which Jefferson, C.J., and O’Neill and Medina, JJ., joined. “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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