Plaintiff was employed ?by the Defendant as? a project manager.?? ?His written employment agreement provided for a discretionary bonus structure with a separate entity, CamWest Managers, LLC (hereinafter LLC), which has the primary purpose of loaning the Defendant money for real estate investment and to provide a return to its members, the Defendant?s management employees.?? ?Membership in the LLC was voluntary, and provided a complicated formula to determine a payout and vested interest. ?The LLC paid the Plaintiff bonuses for 2005-2007 in varying? amounts.?? ?It? paid? no? bonus? in ?2008. After being demoted for non-performance related reasons, Plaintiff was terminated for poor attendance. Plaintiff ?sued ?the ?Defendant ?alleging? that ?the LLC failed to pay the full amount of his capital contributions, and that those contributions amounted to a violation of the Washington Wage Rebate Act (?WRA?), RCW 59.52.050(1).? ?The Court ?granted ?summary? judgment ?for ?the Defendant on the basis that discretionary bonuses were not wages subject to the WRA.?? The Court denied the Defendant attorney fees despite the presence? ?of? ?a? ?prevailing? ?party? ?attorney?? fee provision in the LLC contract.? ?The Plaintiff appealed, and the Defendant cross appealed the denial of attorney fees.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the WRA only applied to prevent employers from coercing rebates of ?wages.??? A bonus can only be considered a wage ??if ?the ?bonus ?is ?given ?regularly? so ?as ?to create an expectation that it will continue, then it may be considered a wage under an implied contract.? Because the bonuses to be paid to Plaintiff were discretionary, the Court concluded that they were not ?wages? within the meaning of the WRA. ?The Court further concluded that even if the bonuses were wages, the WRA did not apply because Plaintiff voluntarily submitted to the diversion ?because? the ?funds ?were? paid ?or? not exactly as? provided? in? the contract? to? which? he voluntarily agreed. ?In order to voluntary agree to a rebate, it is only required that the employee know that he is deferring payment decisions to the employer, and not that those payments are illegal.
The Court of Appeals reversed the denial of attorney ?fees ?to ?the ?Defendant.???? The ?Plaintiff argued that the claim was not brought under the contract which provided for attorney fees to the prevailing party, but under the WRA which does not ?allow ?fees ?to ?the ?Defendant.???? The ?Court rejected? this ?argument ?and? concluded? that ??[a] court ?may award attorney fees for claims other than breach of contract when the contract is central to ?the? existence? of? the? claims, ?i.e., ?when ?the dispute actually arose from the agreements.?? Because the terms and proper enforcement of the employment agreement is central to Plaintiff?s WRA ?claim, ?the ?trial? court ?erred ?in ?denying attorney fees to the prevailing party.
The Plaintiff has filed a Petition for Review.?LaCoursiere v. CamWest Development, Inc., et al.,? ??????Wn. App.????? , 289 P.3d 1163 (12/3/12) (Div. I) (Spearman, Dwyer, Schindler).