NEW MEXICO (KRQE) –  After filing a lawsuit over denied unemployment benefits, some locals are getting their benefits repaid. Earlier this year, 18 individuals argued that the Department of Workforce (DWS) improperly denied their unemployment benefits.

The individuals were unemployed during the pandemic but did not receive some benefits because DWS had claimed they had a history of committing unemployment fraud. State law does allow DWS to deny benefits, but only up to “one year from and after” the fraud determination was made.

The 18 New Mexicans claimed their benefits were denied, even past that one-year period. With help from New Mexico Legal Aid, the 18 individuals took the issue to district court.

In response to the lawsuit, DWS denied the allegation that they illegally extended the disqualification penalty period beyond one year. After District Judge Bryan Biedscheid considered arguments on both sides, he decided DWS didn’t have the authority to try to expand the limitation past one year.

In a summary judgment, Judge Biedscheid said the individuals were entitled to some of the unemployment benefits and that DWS has to pay the legal fees for the individuals’ lawsuit.

In a press release, New Mexico Legal Aid said it’s a “significant legal victory.” The group says that some of the 18 individuals have already received pay from DWS. All totaled, they say DWS will have to pay more than $155,000 in withheld benefits.

“The state legislature created this [unemployment] program so temporarily displaced workers in New Mexico could survive these short periods of unemployment, and these people were denied benefits when it was absolutely necessary,” Alicia Clark, one of the attorneys leading the case, said in a press release. “This is the difference between having a roof over your head and not.”

KRQE News 13 called DWS for comment on the judge’s decision. They did not answer our call.