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Appealing Labor Commissioner Decisions – A Cautionary Tale

Gbolahan Sarumi probably thought it was a good idea to appeal the Labor Commissioner decision. He obviously believed the employee was not entitled to the money awarded, or at least that Gbolahan was not responsible for the payment. He filed his appeal to Superior Court, and several weeks later filed the required bond. He probably didn’t know that when the appeal was later dismissed–even if it is dismissed through settlement–he would forfeit his right to recover the bond.

In Chavez v. Sarumi, the court had to decide whether a late-filed bond could be returned to the person who posted the bond, or if it had to be turned over to the employee. Employers appealing an adverse Labor Commissioner decision must:

first post an undertaking with the reviewing court in the amount of the order, decision, or award. The undertaking shall consist of an appeal bond issued by a licensed surety or a cash deposit, with the court in the amount of the order, decision, or award.

Labor Code §98.2(b)

Some court clerks refuse to accept the appeal without the bond or cash deposit. Others allow the employer to file the appeal and leave it up to the parties and the court to fight it out. In Chavez v. Sarumi, the court made it clear that:

“…when the appeal is dismissed without a settlement, and the employer fails to pay the amount awarded by the Labor Commissioner within 10 days of dismissal, section 98.2, subdivision (b) expressly provides for forfeiture of the undertaking to the employee; it does not provide for the release of funds to individuals who posted the undertaking on behalf of the employer.”

Citing Tabarrejo v. Superior Court, (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 849

The exact facts of this case are a bit murky. It seems there was also a corporate defendant at the Labor Commissioner, but since the corporation was suspended it could not participate in the appeal. I’m assuming Gbolahan was a managing agent or director of the corporation . It’s possible the hearing officer allowed the employee to “pierce the corporate veil,” but Gbolahan more likely was held liable under Labor Code section 558.1.

It also seems there may have been a settlement of some sort because the decision talks about a “stipulation” between the parties regarding attorneys’ fees. I suspect the employer agreed to pay the full amount of the award, and possibly some amount of attorneys’ fees, once the employer realized he would be responsible for the employee’s reasonable attorneys’ fees if the employee recovered any amount.

I cannot tell whether the employer was represented when he filed the appeal or when he resolved the case. If he was represented when the appeal was filed, then hopefully the attorney advised Gbolahan about the risks involved in appealing Labor Commissioner decisions.

I don’t know why the “stipulation” between the parties did not address the disposition of the bond. This could have been a critical error. When resolving claims, be sure to resolve all claims, and consider what and how the payment will be made.

Whether you are the employee or the employer, deciding whether to appeal a Labor Commissioner claim requires thinking through all the possible consequences of the appeal. Even if you are confident in your position, a court will not necessarily rule in your favor. Appealing the Labor Commissioner decision can have adverse consequences for the employer and the employee.

If you are considering an appeal from the Labor Commissioner, or if you need assistance with a Labor Commissioner claim, contact the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. We are happy to help you defend or prosecute your claim.

Original Article by Robert Nuddleman of the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law. We cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice over the Internet. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Using this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. Using the Internet or this blog to communicate with the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Do not post confidential or time-sensitive information in this blog. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted on this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employers and employees in a wide range of employment law matters. Much of his practice focuses on wage and hour issues, such as unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, designing or enforcing commission plans, and other wage-related claims. He also advises employers on how to avoid harassment and wrongful termination claims, and represents employees who have been victims of unlawful discrimination, retaliation or harassment. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. helps employers develop good employment policies, and helps employers and employees with disability accommodation issues.

California Court Rejects Unconscionable Arbitration Agreement

Martha Carbajal sued her former employer, CW Painting, for unpaid wages.  The employer moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the employment agreement Carvajal signed.  The trial court denied the motion and refused to enforce the unconscionable arbitration agreement. CW appealed, but the Fourth Appellate District agreed with the trial court.  You can read the full opinion here.

Procedurally Unconscionable Arbitration Agreement

The appellate court held the arbitration agreement was procedurally unconscionable because it was part of an adhesion contract CW Painting imposed on Carbajal as a term of her employment.  The court took particular issue with the fact that, although the arbitration provision required the parties to arbitrate their disputes under the American Arbitration Association’s (AAA) rules, the agreement did not identify which of AAA’s many different rules would apply, CW Painting did not provide Carbajal with a copy of the rules it believed applied, and CW Painting required Carbajal to sign the agreement without telling her where she could find the governing rules or giving her an opportunity to determine which rules would apply.

Substantively Unconscionable Arbitration Agreement

The court went on to find the arbitration agreement substantively unconscionable because it allowed CW Painting to obtain injunctive relief in court while requiring Carbajal to seek relief through arbitration.  The agreement also waived the statutory requirement that CW Painting post a bond or undertaking to obtain injunctive relief, and it effectively waived Carbajal’s statutory right to recover her attorney fees if she prevailed on her Labor Code claims.

The court refused to sever these unconscionable terms and enforce the remainder of the arbitration provision,and instead declared the whole contract void because multiple unconscionable terms permeated the entire agreement.

The court rejected CW Painting’s contention the Federal Arbitration Act (9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.; FAA) governed the dispute because CW Painting failed to timely present  evidence that the contract with the arbitration provision had a substantial relationship to interstate commerce.

Although many courts will enforce arbitration agreements, California courts will not rubber-stamp an employer-mandated arbitration clause.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law, but we cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Your use of this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. The use of the Internet or this blog for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be posted in this blog and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.

Employer Responsible for Attorneys’ Fees After Labor Commissioner Appeal

A California appellate court held an employer responsible for attorneys’ fees after Labor Commissioner appeal.

In Royal Pacific Funding Corporation v. Arneson, the employer appealed a $29,500.00 Labor Commissioner award.  After the employee retained an attorney for the appeal who notified the employer of the employee’s intent to add additional claims to the appeal, the employer dismissed the appeal.

The employee’s attorney filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, which the employer opposed.  The trial court denied all attorneys’ fees “on the theory that there must be a court award under Labor Code section 98.2 before a party can collect its fees.”  The appellate court reversed the decision and ordered the trial court to determine the employee’s reasonable attorneys’ fees.

Attorneys’ Fees After Labor Commissioner Appeal

Attorneys’ fees on appeal from a Labor Commissioner Order, Decision or Award are governed by Labor Code section 98.2, which provides:

If the party seeking review by filing an appeal to the municipal or superior court is unsuccessful in the appeal, the court shall determine the costs and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the other parties to the appeal, and assess that amount as a cost upon the party filing the appeal.

In 2003, the legislature amended Labor Code section 98.2 to include the statement, ” An employee is successful if the court awards an amount greater than zero.”

Royal Pacific Funding argued that under Arias v. Kardoulias (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 1429, the employee cannot recover attorneys’ fees because the court never determined the case on the merits, and therefore the employee was not “successful” on the appeal.  In Arias, the court denied an employer’s attorneys fees when the employer got an appeal dismissed on procedural grounds, because such a procedural dismissal could not be equated with a superior court determination of the merits. According to the appellate court, interpreting 98.2 to require a decision on the merits “turns the basic purpose of the 2003 amendment on its head.”

Employees and employers must think carefully before appealing a California Labor Commissioner decision.  Employees may be allowed to add additional claims on appeal, and the non-successful appellant may be obligated to pay the other side’s attorneys’ fees.  Before you appeal you Labor Commissioner case, contact an experienced attorney familiar with wage and hour claims.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Feel free to suggest topics for the blog. We are happy to consider topics pertaining to general points of Labor and Employment Law, but we cannot answer questions about specific situations or provide legal advice. If you desire legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

Your use of this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. The use of the Internet or this blog for communication with the firm or any individual member of the firm does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Confidential or time-sensitive information should not be posted in this blog and Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. cannot guarantee the confidentiality of anything posted to this blog.

The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employees and businesses throughout Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area including Pleasanton, Oakland, San Ramon, Hayward, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, San Jose, the South Bay Area, Campbell, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Gilroy, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Saratoga, and Alameda, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Benito, Mendocino, and Calaveras counties.