May 26, 2020

California Supreme Court: Employee Can’t Bring Conversion Claim For Unpaid Wages

Last week, the California Supreme Court ruled that a former start-up employee could not hold his former boss personally liable for unpaid wages based on the theory of common law conversion.  Conversion is a legal term for theft.  This is a win for employers as, if the Court had ruled otherwise, employers potentially could be held liable for tort damages (including punitive damages) for failing to pay wages.

In the case, Voris v. Lampert, the plaintiff, Voris, had worked alongside the defendant, Lampert, to launch three start-up ventures, partly in return for a promise of later payment of wages.  After a falling out, Voris was fired and was never paid.  He sued the companies and won on his claims for non-payment of wages under the California Labor Code and based on contract.  Voris claimed he was unable to collect the monies he won because the companies did not have sufficient assets to pay.  He then brought suit against Lampert individually, seeking to hold him personally responsible for the unpaid wages on a theory of common law conversion. Voris claimed that, by failing to pay the wages, the companies converted his personal property to their own use and that Lampert was individually liable for the companies’ misconduct.  The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that a conversion tort was not the “right fit” for the wrong that Voris alleged.

© 2020 Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP

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About this Author

Jeremy Mittman, Mitchell Silberberg Law Firm, Labor and Employment, Litigation Attorney, Los Angeles
Partner

Jeremy Mittman represents management in litigation of employment-related matters, including discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, as well as state and federal wage and hour claims. Jeremy regularly counsels clients on compliance with employment-related laws and on enforcing personnel policies and procedures. Jeremy has extensive experience representing employers in a variety of industries such as financial services, security services, and numerous entertainment and media companies. In addition, Jeremy works with clients on multi-country HR projects involving...

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Stephen C. Franz, Associate,los angeles, labor & employment
Associate

Stephen represents employers in all areas of labor and employment law, including claims involving harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and sex, race, age and disability discrimination. His experience includes defending clients across a wide array of industries in class actions, wage-and-hour single plaintiff and PAGA claims and representing employers in state and federal lawsuits, private arbitration and administrative proceedings. In addition, he has helped businesses respond to charges and investigations by the DFEH, DLSE, and NLRB as well as assisted with pre-litigation negotiations. Stephen also advises business owners and human resource professionals on employment matters, including workplace investigations, employee discipline, disability accommodations, and compliance with local, state, and federal laws and regulations.

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