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Why the Cure is Worse than the Pain in Wage Claims

Employees who feel they are owed wages in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have the right to pursue a claim for those wages in a court of law. Employers faced with the threat of a wage payment lawsuit should seriously consider the amount of wages in controversy against what the employer could be forced to pay in damages and attorney fees if the employee prevails in a lawsuit. Often, the cure is worse than the pain in wage claims. The lesson to be learned for employers is if you are going to fight a wage claim you had better win.

It is settled law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that if a Plaintiff wins a wage claim lawsuit, the Plaintiff will be entitled to both the principal owed and attorney’s fees. Just to be clear, the payment of attorney’s fees is not a possibility in a successful wage claim lawsuit: it is mandatory. As the losing party, you do have the ability to challenge the amount of attorney’s fees claimed by the Plaintiff if you believe the fees are padded; however, challenging the payment of fees in general will get you nowhere.

In Grajales v. Safe Haven Quality Care, for example, the Common Pleas Court was asked to review an employer's objection to the successful employee's request for counsel fees. Although the case involved an analysis of recoverable fees under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act of 1968., 43 P.S. Section 333.101 et seq, the Court borrowed from the Wage Payment and Collection Law when it determined to only modestly reduce the Plaintiff's attorney's fee petition. Quoting from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, the Court instructed that, "the court may consider the relationship between the damages sought and those actually recovered, it may not lower an attorney's fee to achieve proportionality with the size of the verdict." Id. quoting, Signora v. Liberty Travel, Inc. 886 A.2d 284 (Pa. Super 2005). In other words, if a Plaintiff spends $10,000 in attorney fees in order to get a verdict for $2,000 in back pay or overtime pay owed to the employee, a court is not going to reduce the attorney’s fees simply because they are disproportionate to the amount recovered by the Plaintiff. Both employers and employees should take heed of the court’s viewpoint with regard to attorney fees.

As an employer, the mandatory payment of attorney’s fees should always be considered when an employee disputes wages owed. For example, if an employee claims that he or she is owed $1,000 in unpaid wages, an employer should consider whether it is really worth risking a damages award that includes thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees over a $1,000 dispute. Conversely, an employee would might otherwise feel he or she cannot afford to pursue a lawsuit for unpaid wages should keep in mind that attorneys are assured an award that includes attorney’s fees if the litigation is successful.

Whether you are an employer or an employee, if you have questions or concerns about unpaid wages in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, contact the experienced Conshohocken employment law attorneys at Curley & Rothman, LLC by calling 610-834-8819 today to schedule your consultation.