Hepworth Holzer, LLP offers congratulations to our client and friend Andy Hawes. The Idaho Supreme Court today unanimously affirmed the jury verdict in his favor that we obtained in May 2019. John Janis and John Kluksdal led the firm’s trial team.
John Janis explains the case was uniquely difficult as because Defendant Western Pacific Timber (WPT) “chose to run a scorched earth defense including wholly unsupported personal attacks on Andy. That behavior led to a very contentious litigation and trial.” As John explains, “One of the important things the verdict did, and the Supreme Court’s ruling does, is reaffirm Andy’s well-deserved quality reputation and good name.”
WPT terminated Andy’s employment after he provided a dozen years of loyal quality service to the company. Even at trial, no one from WPT ever questioned the quality of Andy’s work or efforts. Upon his termination and pursuant to an agreement made with WPT’s original owner Tim Blixseth when he went to work, Andy sought his agreed upon severance pay of $500,000. WPT refused to pay because although noted in some documents the severance contract was finalized orally and there was no signed agreement. After he and Andy made attempts to negotiate a settlement without going to court, John Kluksdal of the firm filed suit on his behalf.
We tried the case in May of 2019. Senior Judge Gerald Schroeder presided over the trial at the district court. Agreeing that the facts showed the severance agreement was in place, the jury returned a verdict awarding Hawes the full amount of his severance. The law provides that actual damages in a wage claim case can be tripled under appropriate circumstances. The Idaho Supreme Court explained “the remedy of trebled damages is designed to deter the very scenario the jury found to have occurred.” As Judge Schroeder described it: “There were no reasonable offers of settlement in this case. The plaintiff was offered a scrap and threatened with attacks on his honesty and integrity. If he did not accept the nuisance value offer, there was no real alternative but to go to trial.”
Therefore, pursuant to Idaho Code section 45-615(2) part of Idaho’s wage claim statute, Judge Schroeder properly trebled the jury’s award and entered judgment against WPT.
Hawes also had a right to an attorney fee award under the wage claim statute. In evaluating the attorney fee award Judge Schroeder explained: “At the outset this court saw little likelihood that [Hawes] could prevail. However, as the trial progressed and the threats of public humiliation diminished and the comparative integrity and credibility of the witnesses evolved, the balance shifted, as evidenced by the jury verdict.’”
The Judge awarded Hawes a full award of the contingent attorney fees based on the trebled jury award. After losing on all issues, WPT appealed.
Today, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court in its entirety.
In addition to other legal rulings, the Court held substantial and competent evidence supported the jury’s verdict. Moreover, the Court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the full claimed attorney fees based on Idaho Code section 45-615(2) and Hawes’ contract with his attorneys.
While John Janis and John Kluksdal led the trial effort, the firm is proud of the collaboration throughout our trial team that led to this result.
The decision from the Idaho Supreme Court is available here https://isc.idaho.gov/opinions/47133.pdf