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Lack of predictability in awarding attorney’s fees would limit access to justice

February 28, 2013: An employee sues his employer under the Wage Payment and Collection Law for not paying him all of his wages. He wins! But then the court denies him attorney’s fees. Twice. Concerned about the impact on private attorneys’ willingness to take such cases, the Public Justice Center filed an amicus brief in Ocean City, Maryland Chamber of Commerce v. Barufaldi on February 28 with the ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland Employment Lawyers Association, the Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers Association, the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, the D.C. Employment Justice Center and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. 

The brief argued that courts should routinely award attorney’s fees to successful Wage Payment & Collection Law plaintiffs to encourage private attorneys to take these cases and to deter employers from breaking the law. The brief urged the court to clarify that there is a presumption in favor of attorney’s fees in both Wage & Hour Law cases and Wage Payment & Collection Law cases. In addition, the brief addressed the court’s reasons for denying the attorney’s fees, arguing that courts should not consider defendants’ assertions of insolvency when deciding whether to award attorney’s fees. It also explained that the test the court borrowed from an ERISA case is inappropriate in Wage Payment & Collection Law cases due to differences in statutory language and underlying policies. 
This is the second amicus brief in this case filed by PJC Murnaghan Fellows. We also thank attorney John Ates, our co-counsel, for his contributions to the briefs. 

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