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Illinois courts have explained that an agreement under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA) is broader than a contract. The IWPCA requires only a manifestation of mutual assent on the part of two or more persons; parties may enter into an agreement without the formalities and accompanying legal protections of a contract. The IWPCA requires an employer to pay an employee any final compensation due under that contract or agreement at the time of separation; it defines final compensation to include wages, salaries, earned commissions, earned bonuses, and any other compensation owed by the employer pursuant to an employment contract or agreement between the two parties. 820 ILCS 115/2 (2006).
This case involves a spat over attorneys' fees—in particular, the fees that the firm of Kanoski & Associates allegedly owes to its former associate, Lawrence Hess. After some five years at the firm, Hess was abruptly dismissed. Afterwards, the firm settled several of the cases on which Hess had been working and refused to pay Hess bonuses or fees based on those settlements. Hess believes that he is entitled to some of that money. He first tried to obtain the payments by filing attorney's liens in Illinois state courts. When that strategy failed, he filed this action in federal court against the firm, its president Ronald Kanoski, and Kennith Blan, Jr., a lawyer loosely associated with the firm who took over Hess's cases. The district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. It held that the Illinois courts had already determined that the firm did not owe Hess any payments based on cases that had settled after he was fired.
Did the district court err when it held that Illinois courts had already determined that Kanoski & Associates did not owe Hess any payments based on cases that had settled after he was fired?
The court held that the district court erred when it held that Illinois courts had already determined that Kanoski & Associates did not owe Hess any payments based on cases that had settled after he was fired. In the state lien matters, Hess’ claims were rejected because he no longer had an attorney-client relationship with the clients. No court - neither the Illinois state courts nor the district court below - had ever decided whether Hess’ employment agreement entitled him to compensation for work he did on those cases. Hess made a plausible case that the agreement entitled him to at least some portion of these revenues. He noted that his contract required the firm to give him 30 days' notice before terminating his employment, but it failed to do so. At the very least, in his view, he was entitled to a share in the settlements reached during that period. The court agreed that summary judgment was inappropriate for his contract theories, which he raised under the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA) and under general contract law. The remainder of his complaint, however, was correctly dismissed.