Is it an "Abuse of Process" to Sue My Employer for Back Pay?

Is it an “Abuse of Process” to Sue My Employer for Back Pay?

Unless an employee meets certain exemptions defined by law, he or she is entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a given workweek. This is a pretty straightforward legal principle, yet far too many New York employers still try and find ways to work around this requirement in order to avoid paying overtime rates.

Judge: Nothing “Malicious” About Requiring an Employer to Defend an Overtime Lawsuit

In one recent overtime lawsuit, an employer actually tried to file a counterclaim for “abuse of process” against a former employee who alleged he was illegally denied overtime pay. The plaintiff in this ongoing lawsuit, Jeri v. Great Neck Cleaner & Hand Laundry, Inc., previously worked for the defendants' laundromat. According to his complaint, the plaintiff typically worked between 46 and 48.5 hours per week during his two-plus years of employment, yet he received the same “flat weekly salary” without any overtime compensation.

The defense then filed their counterclaim, which is essentially a separate lawsuit accusing the plaintiff of “malicious abuse-of-process.” The counterclaim maintained the plaintiff's lawsuit “lacked any factual or legal basis at the time it was filed.” The defendants pointed to evidence they presented that included “pay stubs, time cards, wage statements, and payment receipts” prepared during the plaintiff's employment, all of which purported to show he was properly paid. In essence, the counterclaim painted the plaintiff's overtime lawsuit as an attempt to “coerce the payment of additional salary to which he is not entitled.”

The federal judge overseeing the case dismissed the counterclaim. First, the mere filing of a lawsuit is not an “abuse of process.” To the contrary, it is the initiation of a legal process. Second, an abuse of process requires proof that the original lawsuit was filed for an “improper purpose.” That is to say, the defendants needed to show the plaintiff was trying to “compel some other result” beyond the relief he asked for in his lawsuit.

Now, the defendants maintain they do not owe the plaintiff any back overtime pay. That may well turn out to be the case, the judge said. But the plaintiff seeking such relief is not an abuse of process. If he were using the lawsuit as a pretext to obtain something else, then that might qualify as an “improper purpose,” but that is not the case here.

Finally, the defense's counterclaim failed to identify any “concrete harm that is considerably more cumbersome than the physical, psychological or financial demands of defending a lawsuit.” Again, filing a lawsuit is not an abuse of process. If the defendants wish to dispute the merits of the plaintiff's allegations, they can do so by filing a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment.

Speak With a New York Wage Hour and Overtime Lawyer Today

Employers who violate wage and overtime laws are often unwilling to admit such malfeasance in court. This is why it is important to work with a qualified New York employment attorney who has experience litigating such cases. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.

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