Breach of Contract Actions Within Section 218.5's Ambit.
Former employee won contractual awards for severance pay, bonus pay, and vacation pay penalties from ex-employer (totaling about $172,523), enhanced by a further attorney's fees award of $101,100 under Labor Code section 218.5 (a mandatory fee-shifting statute allowing fees to the prevailing party in "any action brought for the nonpayment of wages or fringe benefits"). Employer was not happy and appealed in Milian v. Jet Source, Inc., Case No. D057448 (4th Dist., Div. 1 Jan. 24, 2012) (unpublished).
Employer was no happier after its unsuccessful appeal.
The fee entitlement statute was clear, with no law indicating that it was inapplicable to a breach of contract action. The Legislature did not exclude contract breaches from the ambit of the statutory language, so they were included (especially given that the provision did except out certain matters from fee entitlement in the same section). Employer also argued that the complaint needed to specifically cite the statute in its fee allegations/prayer, but the appellate court found no such requirement in section 218.5 itself. The general prayer allegation for "reasonable attorneys' fees as provided by statute" sufficed to put employer on notice of potential attorney's fees exposure.