In a recently decided case, the Supreme Judicial Court held that two employees who asserted claims under the Massachusetts Wage Act, G.L. c. 149, §§148 and 150, were entitled to recover attorneys' fees from their former employer where the parties had entered into a private settlement agreement. In Ferman v. Sturgis Cleaners, Inc., the SJC held that the employees were entitled to an award of attorneys' fees where their lawsuit acted as a "necessary and important factor" in causing their former employer to "provide a material portion" of the relief they requested in the form of a private settlement.
The Massachusetts Wage Act, M. G. L. c. 149, § 148, governs how and when an employee's wages must be paid and provides that an employer who fails to comply with the Wage Act may be subject to treble damages and be ordered to pay the attorneys' fees of the employee who has to turn to the courts to enforce their rights under the Wage Act. Commission payments are considered "wages" and, therefore, are governed by the Wage Act. For a commission to be "wages," the Wage Act provides that the amount of the commission must be "definitely determined" and "due and payable to [the] employee." Commission compensation has been "definitely determined" when the amount of the compensation due is "arithmetically determinable." Commission compensation is "due and payable" to the employee when "dependent contingencies have been met and it is thus owed to the employee." Practically speaking, that means that the employee (or the court considering whether an employer has violated the Wage Act by failing to pay a commission) must be able to calculate how much commission was owed to the employee and that all of the conditions that must be met for the commission to be payable must have been met.