Like many states with state wage and hour laws, the New York Labor Law contains certain unique provisions. One such provision is Section 198-c, which addresses an employee’s right to recover “wage supplements” such as reimbursement for expenses, health, welfare and retirement benefits and vacation, separation or holiday pay.. Section 198-c expressly provides that its provisions shall not apply to any person in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity whose earnings are in excess of nine hundred dollars a week. The New York State Appellate Division, Second Department, reiterated this exclusion this week. Section 198-c’s limitations are a valuable defense for New York employers when defending claims brought by excluded employees for such wage supplements because if such claims are excluded from Labor Law protection, there is no ability for the plaintiff’s counsel to recover attorney’s fees or statutory liquidated damages. See Fraiberg v 4Kids Entertainment, Inc., 2010 NY Slip Op 6158 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dep’t July 20, 2010).
The relevant facts in Fraiberg are simple. Fraiberg, the controller of a business that ceased operations, asserted both a contract claim and a Labor Law Claim under Section 198-c for, inter alia, alleged unpaid severance. Affirming the trial court, the appellate court agreed that Fraiberg demonstrated a contractual entitlement to severance. However, reversing the trial court, the Second Department granted summary judgment to the employer on Fraiberg’s claims under Section 198-c for severance, attorneys’ fees and liquidated damages. The court stated that since plaintiff acknowledged at her deposition that she worked in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity and earned in excess of $900 per week, the defendant “established that…she could not assert a claim [under 198-c] to compel the payment of the severance package.”
While not relevant to the court’s holding, in dicta, the court stated that the New York State Court of Appeals decision in Pachter v. Bernard Hodes Group, Inc., 10 N.Y.3d 609 (N.Y. 2008) stands for the proposition that executives may bring claims for unpaid wages under Article 6 of the New York Labor Law. Article 6, which includes Section 198-c, allows recovery for any unpaid wages not paid per the parties’ agreement as well an award of liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees. Many read Pachter as merely stating that the deduction from wages provision of Article 6, specifically section 193, applies to executives but that executives generally cannot assert claims for unpaid wages under Article 6.
Like many other states, New York has detailed state wage and hour laws with many nuances. All employers with New York State operations must ensure they recognize obligations and defenses not only under the FLSA but also applicable state laws.