Georgia Employee Was Entitled to Pursue Quantum Meruit Pay, Even Though His Employment Contract Was Too Vague to Enforce

Each Atlanta employment law case is unique, with its own set of facts and issues. In addition to matters such as sexual harassment and employment discrimination, the issue of compensation is fairly common.

Disputes about an employee’s pay can occur at many different pay levels, from employees who maintain that they were not paid even the federally mandated minimum wage to professionals who claim that they were not compensated according to a written or oral agreement between them and the business for which they worked. At the end of the day, everyone – from the lowest paid to the most highly compensated individuals – want a fair wage for the work they have done.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who had an unpaid clerking position with the defendant law firm while he was attending law school. After obtaining his license, the plaintiff accepted a job as a “contract associate” with the firm. Via an employment agreement (in the form of a letter), the law firm agreed to compensate the plaintiff for his services by paying him a part of the fee earned by the firm upon the resolution of cases in which he was involved. The exact amount of compensation was not specified but was to be determined on a case by case basis.

After a few months, the firm paid the plaintiff a modest “advance,” but he did not receive any other compensation during his first year with the firm. About a year after entering into the agreement with the firm concerning his compensation, the plaintiff told the firm that he needed to show a certain monthly income in order to qualify for a home-building loan. According to the plaintiff, the firm then began paying him a semi-monthly salary as an advance on the December 2013 agreement; the firm, however, stated that its actions were in response to the plaintiff’s desire to convert to salaried employment, thereby terminating the previous agreement.

Eventually, the plaintiff resigned, and a dispute about his compensation arose. He filed suit, asserting alternative claims of breach of contract and quantum meruit. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the firm on both claims, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Court’s Decision

The Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the trial court did not err in determining that the December 2013
agreement constituted an unenforceable executory obligation but going on to decide that the trial court’s entry of summary judgment on the plaintiff’s quantum meruit claim had been in error. According to the appellate court, there was evidence that the plaintiff had provided valuable services to the firm during the approximately one year between the December 2013 agreement and the plaintiff’s alleged conversion to a more traditional salary arrangement. Since the contract between the parties was void for vagueness, quantum meruit was appropriate to compensate the plaintiff, who had provided a benefit to the other party associated with the failed agreement.

Contact an Employment Law Attorney

To talk to an experienced Atlanta wage and hour attorney about a dispute with your employer concerning compensation, call Attorney John L. Mays at Parks, Chesin & Walbert. You can reach us for an appointment at 404-873-8048.

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