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No Jury Trial for Wage Payment and Collection Act Claim



Last month an Illinois appellate court (1st District, Cook County) decided that plaintiffs who sue their employers under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act are NOT entitled to jury trials.  This is obviously good news for Illinois employers, since plaintiffs' lawyers would prefer to take such cases in front of a jury than the judge.  Local 42 50/5050 Communications Workers of America and Steve Tisza vs. Doreen Catania (August 2005).


Catania won $91,000 at a jury trial, plus an award of $96,500 in fees under the Illinois Attorney Fees in Wage Actions Act.  The appellate court reversed, finding that the right to a jury trial under the Illinois Constitution only applied to actions for wages under common law.  A suit for final wages under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, in contrast, encompasses remedies outside the scope of a common law wage action. Its elements for proof go beyond and differ from the traditional claim for unpaid wages by a servant against the master.  


Also, the Act permits a plaintiff to file a collection suit against corporate officers personally, a right created by the statute.


Practical impact?  If a former employee engages an attorney who threatens to sue over unpaid wages, and mutters something about a jury trial, remind him of the Catania ruling.  


The court had a second problem with the attorneys fees award.  The Attorney Fees in Wage Action Act permits attorneys who sue for wages to recover fees, so long as a written demand is made in writing at least three days before the suit is brought "for a sum not exceeding the amount [found by the court] to be due and owing."  According to the court, this statute requires the wage earner to demand a SPECIFIC SUM of money before filing suit.