The Blog Formerly Known As Practical Paralegalism
Legal assistant Sonia Wade just wanted what she was due – $550 that her former employer in Tampa, Florida, docked from her final paycheck in 2005, after she took a new job with a different law firm.
When she asked why the money was withheld, her former boss sent her a letter stating the money was deducted for mistakes on the job.
$550 may not be much money to an attorney, but it’s a month’s rent or a mortgage payment for many legal staffers. I’m pleased to say that Wade stood up for herself. She consulted a member of the Florida Bar, Kevin Cohen, who actually makes a living baby-proofing houses. He suggested she file a claim in small claims court.
Wade did, and was hit with a countersuit for another $1,300 in “mistakes”.
Cohen went to the first small claims court hearing with Wade, and the judge suggested that the parties work it out. Cohen offered to accept the $550 due, plus one hour of attorney’s fees. Wade’s former employer declined the offer.
The $550 small claims case was litigated all the way to the appellate level, with assistance from Cohen’s father’s litigation firm, and Wade winning every step of the way. The final verdict: the legal assistant won her $550, and her former employer was ordered to pay over $79,000 in attorney fees (yes, the number of zeroes is correct).
There are strict laws governing what can be deducted from paychecks, with written pre-authorization required for most withholdings. Withholding a portion of a paycheck for alleged mistakes made on the job, with or without authorization, seems arbitrary and cruel, if not simply unlawful.
Kudos to Wade for pursuing what was lawfully hers, and for sending a strong message to employers regarding illegal payroll deductions.