Under the Law, if the court finds that employer withheld the wage of an employee and it was not as a result of a bona fide dispute, the court may award the employee treble damages and reasonable attorney's fees and other costs.
A jury found that the Consortium withheld wages and it was not as a result of a bona fide dispute between the parties. However, the jury did not grant any additional damages beyond the back wages. A major question on appeal was whether the judge could award attorney's fees when the jury did not award enhanced damages.
The Court of Special Appeals decided that there are two separate and independent determinations- one decided by the jury and the other by the judge:
- The jury decides whether wages were withheld in the absence of a bona fide dispute.
- The judge decides whether to award attorney's fees, regardless of whether the jury awarded any additional damages.
The decision is important, especially for plaintiffs, because it allows judges to award attorney's fees and costs, even if the jury does not find the absence of a bona fide dispute and/or does not award treble damages.
NOTE: The Maryland Court of Appeals is currently reviewing this decision.