EBONY.com is excited to re-introduce our "Ask A Lawyer" column, where two extremely brilliant attorneys will provide insight on legal questions each week. Not sure how to handle a sticky situation at work? Got into some trouble in your younger days and aren't sure what your record may look like now? We're here to help. Send your questions to email@example.com.*
"I have some outstanding parking tickets from years ago in the District of Columbia and my license has since been suspended. I want to make arrangements to pay them, but I'm unable to do so online. Is it possible that there is a warrant for my arrest? And would I be arrested in any state if that is the case?"
Charles F. Coleman, Jr: It is unlikely that you would be arrested for unpaid parking tickets. A warrant would likely only have issued if you failed to answer or appear for any moving violation tickets which you also had not paid. Ultimately, the real danger given the question you presented is the status of your license and possible civil penalties if you are too far in arrears with payments. In your question, you note that your license is suspended. This is probably where you run the most risk of getting into trouble. If you know that you have a license that is suspended or revoked, do not drive! While this may seem like common sense, I have to say it because too many folks are aware that their licenses are not valid but still content to “ride dirty”. Driving without a license or without insurance in jurisdictions where it is required by law is a serious issue and can most certainly be an offense for which you can (and likely will) be arrested. Save yourself the hassle.
If you have already exhausted your options in trying to find out everything you can online without getting the information you needed, you should consider returning to jurisdiction in person. If that is an impossibility or a burden, you can call the DMV in that area and explain the situation. There is usually a procedure most jurisdictions will allow you to write them to obtain relevant information regarding your driving record, and you should be able to settle it that way. The other option, provided that you no longer reside in the area where your license is suspended, is to begin the process of obtaining a new valid license in your new jurisdiction. Of course, if you go this route…try and stay away from those parking tickets!
"I was suspended at work for almost 5 months with pay but lost on a lot of commission and incentives and eventually my suspension was later uplifted and I was allowed to come back to work. I was told that an investigation has been concluded and they didn't find any wrong doing in my side so is the a way I can sue the company although they said they will be able to pay me the average amount of commission I could have made. And if so, on what grounds I can sue them on?"
George Gardner, III: There’s no doubt that it can be a hard blow to your personal and professional life when removed from your job involuntarily. And it’s even worse when you miss out on additional compensation. From what I know about your situation, the short answer to your question of whether you can successfully sue your employer is: maybe.
Whether you have a viable claim depends significantly on: (1) the terms and conditions of your employment and (2) how your commission and incentives are determined.
The terms and conditions of your employment may be governed by:
- An employment contract. Such agreements typically cover the reasons for imposing discipline and the circumstances under which you would be entitled to benefits beyond your standard wages, like commissions and incentives. If you have an employment contract, determine whether it speaks to the specific reason that you were suspended, and/or whether it says anything about how a suspension affects your compensation. If what it says is different from what happened, you may be justified in pursuing a claim for breach of contract.
- Your employer’s policies. If you don’t have a signed agreement with your employer, it may still be bound by its policies. These policies are usually found in an employee handbook, manual, or personnel materials. In some cases, these policies create expectations that can be the basis of a legal claim—or neutralize a potential claim—against the employer. If, for instance, the policy specifies that your employer will impose a suspension in situations like yours, it would be difficult to successfully claim that you were wrongfully denied your commissions.
- A contract implied from conduct. A court could find that your employer has breached an implied contract with you if its conduct deviates from the traditional practices in your industry, or if it treated your situation differently than other current employees or past employees. This approach is much less certain, of course, because specific standards relevant to your particular situation may be difficult to establish.
The second important issue is the basis for your entitlement to commission and incentives. For example, if your commission is based on your individual performance, or work you could have done, a court may find it speculative that you would have qualified for commission or incentives during the time that you were suspended. If, however, it is certain that you would have received those benefits, you might have a stronger claim.
Finally, in some cases, an employee can use an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” to challenge certain employer actions. In these situations, the critical question is whether your employer imposed the suspension to intentionally deny you benefits that you would otherwise accrue.
Given what you’ve shared, it seems that your employer is willing to make amends for the significant inconvenience and discomfort you experienced. Whatever you decide, be aware that a court is likely to take that into consideration when determining whether you have a valid claim.
*DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this column should be construed as legal advice and is offered as information only. Readers are advised to consult an attorney with knowledge of the specific state laws within their local jurisdictions.
Charles F. Coleman Jr. is a former Kings County (Brooklyn), NY prosecutor and presently functions as a federal trial attorney. Follow him on Twitter: @CFColemanJr.
George C. Gardner III is a graduate of the Howard University School of Law and has practiced in government, nonprofit, and private sector settings. His experience includes constitutional civil rights law, commercial litigation, and transactional matters in the small business context. He is licensed in the State of New York where he has recently transitioned into solo and freelance practice. Follow him on Twitter: @ggiii.