California Labor Commissioner Secures $232,435 Judgment in Retaliation Suit

California Labor Commissioner Angela Bradstreet recently announced that her office has prevailed in a retaliation lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against real estate developers 1538 Cahuenga Partners LLC and secured a $232,435 award for a former employee of the developers.

"This judgment sends a clear message to California employers that we will employ every means possible to seek justice for employees who have suffered retaliation," Bradstreet said. "We will vigorously enforce the anti-retaliation provisions of the labor code so that employees are protected under the labor code."

The employee in question, Jacqueline M. Fabe, worked for 22 days as an in-house attorney for the company and in May 2005 filed a wage claim to secure wages which the developer failed to pay upon her resignation. At the time of the wage hearing the company's managing partner, Ron Hacker, served Fabe with a frivolous malpractice lawsuit rather than resolving the unpaid wage claim. Fabe subsequently filed a retaliation suit in September 2005. The retaliation suit required a lengthy investigation and litigation process before not only the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, but the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations on appeal by Hacker, and the Superior Court.

The award includes Fabe's attorney fees for more than four years for defending herself against her previous employer's malpractice suit as well as the back wages and court costs. In her decision, Judge Jane L. Johnson adopted many of the labor commissioner's arguments, including the recognition that managing partner Hacker had employed the practice of filing meritless claims and lawsuits against another former employee who had filed a wage claim when the defendant failed to pay all wages due.

Fabe had been employed by Cahuenga as its in house attorney from Feb. 24, 2005 through March 23, 2005. She filed a complaint with the California Labor Commissioner on May 31, 2005 seeking unpaid wages in the amount of $4,000 plus interest and penalties in the amount of $8,300 for a total of $12,824. The Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (Labor Commissioner’s office) sent out a Notice of Claim and Conference to all parties on Sep 28, 2005.

On Oct. 25, 2005 Hacker and Cahuenga filed a complaint against Fabe alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fraud and legal malpractice/negligence. Hacker subsequently served Fabe with the complaint at the Labor Commissioner hearing.

The Labor Commissioner found in favor of Fabe in the wage claim, awarding her a total of $12,824.66 including back wages, interest, and additional wages as a waiting time penalty according to California labor law.

Fabe consequently filed a retaliation complaint with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement in response to the malpractice lawsuit served against her by Hacker. The Labor Commissioner again found in Fabe's favor and determined that Cahuenga and Hacker failed to meet its burden of providing evidence of a legitimate, non-retaliatory reason for the malpractice complaint against Fabe. Cahuenga appealed the decision with the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. On June 26, 2008, Director John C. Duncan upheld Bradstreet's determination. Cahuenga's complaint filed against Fabe was heard in conjunction with Bradstreet's retaliation litigation against Cahuenga on Nov. 9, 2009, in the Superior Court of Los Angeles.

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