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Employees Cannot Pursue Conversion Claim for Unpaid Wages
Aug 15, 2019

Employees Cannot Pursue Conversion Claim for Unpaid Wages

Topics: Court Decisions, Wage & Hour Issues

In a development that really is only of interest to employers litigating claims for unpaid wages, the California Supreme Court issued a favorable decision today in Voris v Lampert, holding that employees claiming unpaid wages cannot sue their employers in tort for conversion.  This holding, while favorable, does not in any way meaningfully eliminate employees’ ability to sue for unpaid wages.  There are still many avenues available to employees to sue for unpaid wages.  Most notably, there remain numerous Labor Code provisions that allow employees to sue for unpaid wages, penalties, interest, and attorneys’ fees.  Employees also may sue under California’s unfair competition law.  However, in the past, some plaintiffs’ attorneys have also included a piggy-back claim for “conversion,” alleging that the employer wrongfully converted money belonging to the plaintiff.  The reason a conversion claim is attractive is because it is a strict liability claim, it allows for individual liability, and it provides for possible recovery of punitive damages.  Today, the California Supreme Court eliminated this avenue for relief, holding that the tort of conversion does not apply to claims for unpaid wages in the employment setting.  Justices Cuellar and Liu dissented from the Court’s opinion.  While not a game-changer in the field of wage and hour litigation, today’s decision is nonetheless a positive move by California’s high court.

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Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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