Plaintiff received discretionary bonuses for work performed, a portion of which were invested in a related company pursuant to Plaintiff?s employment agreement.?? ?The employment agreement also provided that the prevailing party in any dispute under the contract should be awarded? ?reasonable? ?attorney? ?fees.?????? When Plaintiff was terminated before the investments in the related company were fully vested he lost that portion of his bonuses. ?The Plaintiff brought suit alleging that the failure to pay the full bonus violated the wage rebate act (WRA), RCW49.52.050.???? ?The? trial ?court ?granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, but denied attorney fees. The Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment on the grounds that the bonuses were not wages and that even if they were bonuses he knowingly submitted to alleged violations of the WRA.? ?The Court of Appeals also awarded reasonable attorney fees on the grounds that the employment?? agreement? ?was?? central?? to?? the dispute.??? LaCoursiere,? 172? Wn.App.? 142,? 289 P.3d 683 (2012).?? The Supreme Court granted review, and affirmed in part and reversed in part. Significantly, the Supreme Court held that bonuses once paid for work performed are wages within the meaning of the WRA.? ??[O]nce CamWest paid LaCoursiere the bonus based on his work performance, that bonus became a wage that LaCoursiere was ?entitled to receive from his employer, and which the employer is obligated to pay.?? The Court further held, however, that the wages were not rebated. ?The Court reasoned that ?wages are rebated only when they are returned to an entity that controlled and originated payment.? ?Because the related company did not control or originate the payment of wages, the wages were not rebated within the meaning of the WRA.
The Supreme Court reversed the award of attorney fees because Plaintiff?s claim was grounded exclusively on the WRA which authorizes attorney fees only to prevailing employees.? ??We have previously?? held? ?that? ?mandatory?? attorney?? fee shifting provisions in employment contracts are unconscionable where the legislature authorizes only ?prevailing?? employees? ?to?? collect? ?attorney fees.? Citing Brown v. MHN Gov’t Servs., Inc., 178 Wn.2d 258, 274-75, 306 P.3d 948 (2013). Justice Gonzales concurred in part and dissented in part. ?He dissented on the grounds that the record was insufficient to determine whether the investment company was truly separate from the employer, except insofar as it suggests that it was not separate. ?Although the issue was not discussed directly by the majority, he disagreed with Court of Appeals? conclusion that the Plaintiff ?knowingly submitted? to any violation of the WRA. ?Justices Stephens, C. Johnson, and J. Johnson joined.
LaCoursiere v. CamWest Development, Inc., — Wn.2d —, — P.3d — (10/23/14)