Employees Cannot Pursue Conversion Claim for Unpaid Wages
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.