Small Claims Court and His Former Employer
Say you have employed the same cleaning lady for the past four years. One week, you tell her you forgot to go to the bank, but you’ll pay her next time. She’ll probably let it go because you have a history with her and you’ve always paid.
But what if you don’t pay her the next week, because you’re not home? Maybe she cleans that second week. She calls you and you explain you were called away on important government business. But don’t worry about the money, because it will be taken care of.
She shows a third week and again you aren’t there. Does she clean? Does she believe that you will pay her? Still, there’s no money forthcoming. She calls you repeatedly about the money owed her, but you are so busy you don’t return her call.
How does this woman, this free-lance individual, collect? Why even bother, right? It’s an important amount of money, but she really has no recourse, other than to find another job.
Let’s be honest, this woman is never going to get her money—and her well-heeled employer, who didn’t pay her, won’t be coughing up the money. This “busy important person” will simply hire a new cleaning person.
Our cleaning lady could try going to small claims court (where you can try to settle a claim below $10,000), but first she has to pay a filing fee.
Small claims court does not allow you to serve papers (announcing the defendant’s court date) via mail or even registered mail–the notice must be handed to the person.
But what if our “busy important person” keeps hiding and refuses to answer the door or has a workplace that is not accessible? Then our cleaning lady will have to pay a sheriff to serve notice of the small claims court date.
Once a court date is set, she will have to take time off work, from hopefully a new job, to go to court in Santa Monica. And just like that, it costs her about $200 overall to get before a judge.
I spent Friday in small claims court with a former colleague. He had been stiffed by his former employer and was owed almost $9,000. He couldn’t afford to simply give up ever seeing this money.
My friend had paid for filing and for a sheriff to serve the claim. This was his third trip to court, starting last October. The employer never showed the first three times and the judge ruled in favor of my friend in February and said that the employer indeed owed him close to $9,000.
Over, right? Unfortunately, six days AFTER the deadline to file an appeal, the former employer filed to vacate the judgment, and the judge allowed the appeal to go forward. So, it was back to court on May 10.
The problem is that my friend, instead of just writing “Acme Publishing,” wrote, “Jack Acme” aka “Acme Publishing.”
The judge granted a continuance because Jack Acme’s name could not be on the complaint since there was no specific contract with the person, just the publishing company. The judge said my friend could refile with just “Acme Publishing.”
As my friend explained to the judge, “I’ve never done anything like this before [court/legal] and Acme is Acme publishing—there is no one else in the company.”
At that point Mr. Acme told the judge that his publishing debts had been sold to another publishing entity, and that my friend had been paid. This was not true. My friend had not been paid, he had not received any checks from the new company and the money owed to him was from January through June 2018, when “Acme Publishing” was run by one man.
Mr. Acme owns a large home, belongs to an expensive beach club and owns a second business that operates in Pacific Palisades and other communities. He’s a former Eagle Scout, but maybe he’s forgotten the Scout Oath.
The moral of this story is that personal dignity and honesty should still matter in our society. By refusing to pay someone who has loyally worked for you, just because you claim to suddenly not have any money, you are telling him (or her) that he is less than you are. And that is truly despicable. Pay your obligation, Mr. Acme.