Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Triple Damages When The Employer Disputes Only Part of the Wages Claimed

I recently tried a small Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law case in the District Court of Maryland.  The employer conceded that it owed some -- but not all -- of the wages we were seeking.  The Court did not award the disputed amount;  but tripled the undisputed amount. The Court relied on this passage from my trial brief on the issue: 

An employer may be liable for treble damages on only a portion of the amount claimed.  In Medex, for example, the Court noted that the employer’s withholding of one part of the employee’s claimed wages “might itself be evidence of a lack of good faith” Id at 43.  Likewise in, Baltimore Harbor Charters, Ltd. v. Ayd, 365 Md. 366, 397, 780 A.2d 303 (2001), the Court noted that the “bona fide dispute” provision of § 3-507.2 contains no language which would permit an employer to withhold amounts it concedes are owed to employee. According to the Court:  “where an employer alleges the existence of a bona fide dispute as to the total amount of wages owed to an employee . . . yet concedes that a certain amount of wages are due. . . the employer acts at his or her peril in failing to pay the conceded amount.”  Id. The penalty provision in § 3-507.2 thus applies to any portion of the amount claimed to be owed or paid late that is not subject to a good faith dispute.
The Court's award of triple damages is important.  It allows my client to seek to collect his attorney's fees from the employer that withheld his wages.

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