Division I: Commission Hearing With Wage Recovery Allows Fees and Costs Under RCW 49.48.030
This case is all about when a person may seek attorneys fees under RCW 49.48.030. The statute allows someone to seek attorneys fees whenever successful in “recovering a judgment for wages or salary owed to him or her.” Now, it doesn’t say what kind of judgment, and this case wasn’t a direct wage action, but was an employment action to get the job back from the employer or pages from wrongful termination:
The deputy director of the department recommended that Arnold be terminated. Arnold, whose performance evaluations had otherwise been excellent, hired counsel and requested a hearing. After the hearing, the director decided against termination and chose instead to demote Arnold from her management position with an annual salary of $85,500 to an entry-level position with an annual salary of approximately $56,000.
Through counsel, Arnold and her subordinate appealed to the Seattle Civil Service Commission. A hearing examiner conducted a lengthy hearing, in which three attorneys participated—one representing the City and one representing each employee. The issue with respect to Arnold was whether the demotion was for justifiable cause. The examiner concluded that demoting Arnold was not consistent with discipline imposed in comparable cases.
For example, one of the other supervisors had received a two-week suspension but no demotion. The examiner's written decision reversed Arnold's demotion and converted it to a two week suspension. The decision reinstated Arnold to her former position and awarded back pay and related employee benefits. Arnold requested an award of attorney fees.
Now, was this a judgment? I mean, obviously she was successful in recovering wages. But did RCW 49.48.030 apply. The court says it did, based on precedent in which a grievance arbitration counted, and the statute’s mandate that it be interpreted liberally for employees.
So Arnold gets her attorneys’ fees.