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Calif. court reduces penalties against law firm in paralegal's wage dispute

By Sandra Lane | Aug 6, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – The First Appellate District of the Court of Appeal of California has reduced the penalties on a law firm in a wage dispute between a paralegal and the law firm.

Judge Ethan P. Schulman on Aug. 1 ruled that the San Mateo County Superior Court should enter a new judgment reducing the waiting time penalty against the defendant in the case and also determine the amount of attorney’s fees to be paid.

As related in court opinion, plaintiff Taryn Nishiki worked as an office manager and paralegal for defendant Danko Meredith, a law firm. She resigned by sending an email to the two partners at 6:38 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. In the email, she said that her unused vacation time “needs to be paid within 72 hours of my notice of resignation,” the opinion states.

When an employee in California resigns without notice, according to the opinion, all wages due must be paid within 72 hours. Otherwise, there are penalties to be paid for delay. The appeals court ruled that the time for penalties did not begin when Nishiki said it did. 

“There is no evidence her employers were working or reading their business email after business hours on Friday, Nov. 14, and thus no basis to conclude they actually received her resignation on that date,” the opinion states.  

In consideration of this reasoning, the appeals court ordered the amount of penalties reduced.

Regarding attorneys fees, Schulman rejected the law firm's challenge of the hourly rate.

“Finally, we reject defendant’s challenge to the hourly rate of $500. In determining hourly rates, the court must look to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community ... and also consider the experience, skill, and reputation of the attorney requesting fees," the opinion states.

“The judgment is reversed with directions. On remand, the trial court shall enter a new judgment reducing the waiting time penalty from $4,250 to $2,250. In all other respects, the judgment is affirmed. On remand, the trial court shall award attorney fees for the appeal in an amount to be determined by the trial court. Nishiki shall recover her costs on appeal.”

Judge Jon B. Streeter and Judge Timothy A. Reardon concurred.

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