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COA affirms attorney owes ex-assistant thousands in unpaid wages

December 23, 2015

An Elkhart solo practitioner must pay his former legal assistant more than $85,000 after she sued him to recover unpaid wages owed to her over the course of two years, the Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday.

Bonnie Egan worked as Eugene Topolski’s legal assistant from November 2005 until April 2012. She was paid a set amount of money on a weekly basis, regardless of the number of hours worked and could take vacation whenever she needed. This arrangement worked until the economic downturn hit. By January 2010, she expected to be paid $600 gross per week, but she was not paid every week from that point on. She stopped receiving paychecks from August 2011 until January 2012, when Topolski began paying her $600 gross per week again.

She asked to be let go so she could collect unemployment, but Topolski did not fire her. She instead took a job with another law firm in April 2012. In her resignation letter, she gave Topolski until June 1, 2012, to pay her the $24,000 she was owed in past-due salary from 2011 and 2012. Topolski never paid the amount, so she sued in Elkhart Superior Court. The trial court granted her $85,104.14, which included unpaid back pay, liquidated damages and attorney fees.

Topolski appealed in Eugene J. Topolski v. Bonnie Egan, 20A05-1502-CC-82, claiming the court erred in finding Egan was a salaried employee and incorrectly calculated the amount of unpaid wages due. He argued she was an hourly employee and was only owed $8,200. But he is essentially asking the appeals court to reweigh the evidence, which it will not do. The trial court listed numerous factors based on the evidence presented at trial of the two’s employment relationship to support its legal conclusion that Egan was a salaried employee, Judge Paul Mathias wrote.

The COA also found no error by the trial court in awarding liquidated damages and attorney fees under I.C. 22-2-5-2.

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