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A California Employer May Not Recover Attorney Fees On A Wage Claim Unless the Claim Is Brought in B

The California Court of Appeal - Fourth District - has ruled that an employer may not recover attorney fees incurred in successfully defending a wage claim, found not to have been brought in bad faith, when the wage claim was inextricably intertwined with a contract claim (e.g. for breach of a promissory not) for which the employer would otherwise be contractually entitled to recover attorney fees. (Dane-Elec v. Bodokh - filed May 24, 2019, Fourth District, Div. Three, 2019 S.O.S. 2471.)

Specifically, the Court of Appeal held that unless a trial court finds the wage claim was brought in bad faith, California Labor Code section 218.5, subdivision (a) (section 218.5(a)) prohibits, as a matter of law, an award of attorney fees to a nonemployee prevailing party for successfully defending a wage claim that is inextricably intertwined with a claim subject to a contractual prevailing party attorney fees provision. To the extent the wage claim and the contract claim are inextricably intertwined, section 218.5(a)’s prohibition on recovering attorney fees controls over the contractual attorney fees provision.

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