ANGELO A. ZIOTAS v. THE REARDON LAW FIRM, P.C., SC 18292
Judicial District of Waterbury
Employment; Wages; Whether Plaintiff's Bonus Constituted "Wages" Under General Statutes § 31-71a (3); Whether Plaintiff Stated Cause of Action for Wrongful Withholding of Wages Under General Statutes § 31-72. The plaintiff was employed as an attorney with the defendant law firm from April of 1992, until October of 1998. In addition to his base salary, the plaintiff received a bonus in December each year. When the plaintiff did not receive his bonus in December of 1998, he filed this action, claiming, among other things, that the defendant had wrongfully withheld wages by virtue of its failure to pay the bonus. Pursuant to General Statutes § 31-72, "[w]hen any employer fails to pay an employee wages . . . such employee . . . may recover, in a civil action, twice the full amount of such wages, with costs and such reasonable attorney's fees." Section 31-71a (3) defines "wages" as "compensation for labor or services rendered by an employee, whether the amount is determined on a time, task, piece, commission or other basis of calculation." The trial court found that the plaintiff did not state a cause of action for wrongful withholding of wages under § 31-72 because the bonus did not constitute "wages" under § 31-71a (3). The court reasoned that the bonus was not "compensation for labor or services rendered" because it was dependent upon the overall success of the defendant and did not accrue as a result of the plaintiff's personal efforts alone. The Appellate Court disagreed (111 Conn. App. 28) with the trial court, concluding that the plaintiff had pleaded a valid cause of action for the wrongful withholding of wages. The Appellate Court noted that the wage statutes provide remedial protections for those cases in which the employer-employee wage agreement is violated but do not set forth substantive standards as to how wages are to be calculated or determined. The Appellate Court reasoned that the answer to whether the plaintiff's bonus should be considered "wages" under § 31-71a (3) turned on his employment agreement. It was not relevant, it opined, whether the bonus was calculated on the number of hours worked or some other basis, which may or may not incorporate the efforts of others. Because the plaintiff had alleged in his complaint that the parties' employment contract provided for a bonus that fairly reflected his contribution to the defendant's success and that the plaintiff contributed to the defendant's success by providing legal services and by generating fees, the Appellate Court determined that the bonus could be considered "wages" under § 31-71a (3). The defendant challenges the Appellate Court's decision in this appeal before the Supreme Court.