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Too Many Remedies or Not Enough: Balancing Wage Theft and Other Public Policy Concerns in Voris v. Lampert, 54 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 881 (2021)

In a five to two decision, the California Supreme Court in Voris v. Lampert, 446 P.3d 284 (Cal. 2019) held there
could be no tort conversion claim based on the nonpayment of wages.  In doing so, the majority opinion distinguished the conversion of unpaid wages from other cases involving the conversion of money, opining that (1) employees do not have a property interest in their unpaid wages; and (2) unpaid wages do not involve “a specific sum capable of identification,” a requirement for the conversion of money.  However, the dissenting opinion found precedent to be indistinguishable and reached the opposite conclusion: that (1) employees do have a property interest in their unpaid wages; and (2) unpaid wages can, and do, involve a “specific sum capable of identification.”

Based on these conflicting interpretations, this Comment written by Tina Kuang and published in Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, argues that both opinions were driven by public policy concerns instead of the sound application of precedent.  Part II presents the facts and procedural history of the case, and Part III explores the majority and dissent’s reasoning as to why a conversion claim is or is not the appropriate remedy to address wage theft.  In Part IV, Sections IV.A and IV.B contend that both opinions are rooted in public policy concerns because the distinction between this case and precedent seems rather arbitrary.  Section IV.C observes that while Voris can recover under the existing remedies, not all victims of wage theft can recover their stolen wages without maintaining a conversion claim.  Finally, Section IV.D argues that conversion based on the nonpayment of wages should not be categorically barred and offers two elements to limit the scope of a conversion claim for unpaid wages that address the majority’s policy concerns described in Section IV.B.

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