Thursday, August 24, 2006

employment - wages - attorney fees

Voracek v. Crown Castle USA - Superior Court - August 22, 2006

The appellate court upheld the grant of attorney fees to plaintiff's counsel in a case where the trial court awarded wages, pursuant to a contractual severance agreement. Part of the case involved mutual mistake and a reformation of the parties actual written agreement, which had mistakenly omitted the severance agreement.

The court rejected the argument that "because the trial court's decision was based on a finding of mutual mistake and not on a violation of the [wage payment and collection law,] there is no basis for a statutory award of attorneys' fees." The court said that to "ensure that employees who are successful in their actions against an employer are made whole again, the statute mandates an award of attorneys' fees in addition to any judgment awarded to a plaintiff….43 P.S. sec. 260.9a(f)."

contracts - mutual mistake - reformation

Voracek v. Crown Castle USA - Superior Court - August 22, 2006

Clear and convincing evidence showed a mutual mistake when, after extensive negotiations and agreement about the inclusion of a specific contract provision, the parties' final written agreement omitted that provision.

In spite of an "unambiguous integration clause providing that the agreement superseded any and all prior agreements," the trial court properly admitted extrinsic evidence pursuant to the "doctrine of mutual mistake of fact…[which] occurs when the written instrument fails to set forth the true agreement of the parties." That extrinsic evidence showed that the parties intended to have the omitted provision as part of the agreement.

A contract may be reformed in such circumstances if "(1) the misconception entered into the contemplation of both parties as a condition of assent, and (2) the parties can be placed in their former position regarding the subject matter of the contract."

The evidence supporting the application of the doctrine "must be clear and convincing."

UC - voluntary quit - elimination of health care benefits

Brunswick Hotel & Conference Center v. UCBR - Commonwealth Court - August 23, 2006

Claimant had good cause to quit her job when employer eliminated health care benefits that had previously been provided to her. Claimant continued to work for 8 months after this happened, showing that she made a reasonable effort to preserve her job.

The court contrasted this case, involving a total elimination of health care benefits, with cases where the cost of health insurance had increased -- Steinberg v. UCBR, 624 A2d 237 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1993) and Chavez v. UCBR, 738 A2d 77 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999). Even in those cases, benefits were granted where the increased cost was a "substantial unilateral change," noting however that there was "no talismanic percentage for determining a change so substantial as to warrant" good cause to quit.