Section 1194 of the California Labor Code - Minimum Wage

Prior to the 1991 amendment to section 1194, that section read (since 1973): "Any employee receiving less than the legal minimum wage or the legal overtime compensation applicable to such employee is entitled to recover in a civil action the unpaid balance of the full amount of such minimum wage or overtime compensation, together with costs of suit, notwithstanding any agreement to work for a lesser wage." Under section 1194, as it read prior to 1991, an overtime claimant had no right to recover attorney's fees or interest; only "costs of suit" could be recovered. Section 1194 was originally enacted in 1913 to mandate minimum wages, maximum hours and overtime pay for women and children. Initially, private civil actions were allowed only for recovery of minimum wages. The enforcement of overtime compensation rights was left to the state; however, in 1961, section 1194 was amended to provide that the private right to bring a civil action would extend to include overtime claims and the employee was also given the right to recover costs of suit. Subsequently, in 1972, the Legislature again amended section 1194 and extended the right to sue for minimum wages to "any employee," not just women and children, and, a year later, did the same thing with respect to overtime compensation claims. Thus, before the enactment of section 218.5 in 1986, the Legislature had given special treatment to claims for nonpayment of the legal minimum wage and overtime compensation. While it might be argued that the enactment of section 218.5 had the effect of extending to a successful overtime compensation claimant the right to recover "reasonable attorney's fees," we know of no case which has so held. Moreover, that the Legislature never regarded section 218.5 as applicable to actions for minimum wage or overtime compensation was made clear by the 1991 amendment to section 1194. The Legislature must be deemed to have been aware of section 218.5 when it acted to amend section 1194. (See In re Michael G. (1988) 44 Cal. 3d 283, 293 243 Cal. Rptr. 224, 747 P.2d 1152.) The legislative history of that amendment of section 1194 demonstrates that its provisions had been negotiated with the Department of Industrial Relations to provide to overtime compensation claimants the additional remedies of interest, liquidated damages and attorney's fees as a "needed disincentive to violation of minimum wage laws." (Sen. Rules Com., Analysis of Sen. Bill No. 955 (1991-1992 Reg. Sess.) as amended Sept. 10, 1991, italics added.) An analysis of the bill submitted to the Senate in advance of the vote stated that, "these additional remedies are especially necessary in situations where the employees themselves pursue a private action to recover unpaid wages or overtime." (Ibid.) An examination of the bill's legislative history also demonstrates that in a civil action to recover unpaid overtime compensation, the "existing law," provided only for "costs of suit," not attorney's fees. There was no mention or recognition of section 218.5 or its reciprocal attorney's fee provisions as having any possible application to an overtime compensation claim. Thus, the Legislature clearly intended to give special treatment to overtime compensation claims and to create a one-way fee-shifting right for a successful employee; but no similar right was recognized for an employer who successfully defended such a claim. Obviously, the Legislature did not regard the general provisions of section 218.5 as applicable to overtime claims. If we were to hold otherwise, we would, by such conclusion, create the very type of statutory conflict which we are enjoined to avoid. (Stop Youth Addition, Inc. v. Lucky Stores, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal. 4th 553, 569 71 Cal. Rptr. 2d 731, 950 P.2d 1086 there is a strong presumption against the implied repeal of one statute by another with apparently conflicting language and the "courts are bound, if possible, to maintain the integrity of both statutes if the two may stand together".) Thus, if an employee is unsuccessful in a suit for minimum wages or overtime, section 1194 does not permit a prevailing employer to recover fees or costs. "Statutes expressly permitting fees for only a particular prevailing party have been interpreted as denying fees for the other party, even if it prevailed." (Brown v. West Covina Toyota (1994) 26 Cal. App. 4th 555, 561 32 Cal. Rptr. 2d 85, disapproved on other grounds in Murillo v. Fleetwood Enterprises, Inc. (1998) 17 Cal. 4th 985, 995-996 73 Cal. Rptr. 2d 682, 953 P.2d 858.)