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Nieto v. Clark's Market, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fourth Division

June 27, 2019

Carmen Nieto, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Clark's Market, Inc., Defendant-Appellee.

          Pitkin County District Court No. 18CV8 Honorable Denise K. Lynch, Judge

          Albrechta & Albrechta, LLC, Eleni K. Albrechta, David T. Albrechta, Durango, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant

          Bechtel Santo & Severn, Michael C. Santo, Alicia W. Severn, Grand Junction, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee

          OPINION

          J. JONES, JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Carmen Nieto appeals the district court's judgment dismissing her claim for vacation pay against her former employer, Clark's Market, Inc. (the Market). The issue before us is whether the Market's policy saying that an employee isn't entitled to payment for unused vacation time if the Market discharges her or if she voluntarily quits without giving two weeks' notice violates the Colorado Wage Claim Act (CWCA). We hold that it does not, and so we affirm the district court's judgment.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 While working for the Market, Ms. Nieto accrued vacation time pursuant to the vacation policy in the Market's employee handbook. That policy explains how vacation time accrues, how (and when) it can be used, and whether and under what circumstances employees are entitled to payment for accrued but unused vacation time when they leave employment. As to the latter, the policy says that an employee is entitled to payment for accrued but unused vacation time if she voluntarily resigns and gives at least two weeks' notice; but if the Market discharges an employee for any reason or for no reason or if the employee fails to give two weeks' notice before quitting, the employee "forfeits all earned vacation pay benefits."

         When the Market discharged Ms. Nieto, it refused to pay her for vacation time she had accrued but hadn't used, pointing to the vacation policy.[1]¶ 3 Ms. Nieto sued, seeking payment for accrued vacation time and alleging that the Market's vacation forfeiture policy violates sections 8-4-101(14)(a)(III) and 8-4-121, C.R.S. 2018, of the CWCA because it denies her payment for earned wages. The Market moved to dismiss her complaint under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) for failure to state a claim. The district court granted that motion, concluding that the CWCA "clearly and unambiguously gives employers the right to enter into agreements with its employees regarding vacation pay."

         II. Discussion

         ¶ 4 Ms. Nieto contends that the district court misconstrued the CWCA in determining that she didn't state a plausible claim for relief. Her argument, at its core, is that section 8-4-121 voids the Market's policy requiring employees to voluntarily resign and give two weeks' notice to be eligible to receive payment for accrued but unused vacation time. This is so, she says, because she has a right to payment for such vacation time under sections 8-4-101(14)(a)(III) and -109(1)(a), C.R.S. 2018. This case therefore turns on our interpretation of these provisions of the CWCA.

         A. Standard of Review and Interpretive Principles

         ¶ 5 We review de novo an order granting a motion to dismiss. See Norton v. Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, Inc., 2018 CO 3, ¶ 7. A court properly grants a C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim where the complaint's factual allegations, taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, don't present plausible grounds for relief. See id.; Begley v. Ireson, 2017 COA 3, ¶ 8.

         ¶ 6 We also review issues of statutory interpretation de novo. Colo. Oil & Gas Conservation Comm'n v. Martinez, 2019 CO 3, ¶ 19.

         ¶ 7 In interpreting a statute, we look to the language of the statute and apply the plain and ordinary meanings of the words and phrases used therein. Id. "We do not add or subtract words from the statute[.]" City & Cty. of Denver v. Dennis, 2018 CO 37, ¶ 12. And, we consider the entire statutory scheme to give "consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all of its parts." Id. If the statutory ...


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