Oregon Case Law Update: No Attorney Fees for Unlawful Withholding of Wages Where Defendant Acted in Good Faith

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Oregon Case Law Update: No Attorney Fees for Unlawful Withholding of Wages Where Defendant Acted in Good Faith

From the desk of John M. Kreutzer: Under Oregon law, the trial court or arbitrator may award attorney fees to an employee where the employer unlawfully withholds wages from the employee. But where the employer committed a purely technical violation of law by failing to obtain written authorization from its employee before deducting wages at the employee’s request to pay a traffic fine on behalf of the employee, should the court award attorney fees? Read on to learn more.

Claims Pointer: In this case arising out of a wage dispute, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that it was an abuse of discretion for the arbitrator to award attorney fees for the plaintiff’s unlawful withholding claim when the employer’s unlawful withholding was a purely technical violation, and every factor the arbitrator considered in determining whether to award attorney fees counseled against such an award. The case provides valuable insight into the process by which a court evaluates a discretionary award of attorney fees in an unlawful withholding claim.

Johnson v. O’Malley Brothers Corp., 285 Or App 804 (June 1, 2017)

Johnny Johnson (“Johnson”) worked for about two months as a commercial truck driver for O’Malley Brothers Corporation (“O’Malley”). After Johnson’s employment was terminated, he sent O’Malley a “Notice of Non-Payment of Wages,” which stated that Johnson was not certain of all claims that he had against O’Malley, and that the notice was intended to put O’Malley on notice of all claims, whether specified in the notice or not. The notice also indicated that O’Malley had not paid Johnson all of his earnings. Johnson’s attorney later sent O’Malley a separate “Notice of Wage Claim,” which did not provide any additional details but which enclosed and incorporated the first notice by reference. After reviewing Johnson’s personnel...

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