In Voris v. Lampert, the Supreme Court today rules a former employee can sue a company for unpaid wages under contract and statutory theories, but cannot hold a company’s officer personally liable in tort under a conversion theory when the company can’t pay a judgment because of the officer’s alleged misfeasance.  It’s a 5-2 decision, with Justice Leondra Kruger writing the court’s opinion and Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar (joined by Justice Goodwin Liu) dissenting.

The majority says “a claim for unpaid wages resembles other actions for a particular amount of money owed in exchange for contractual performance—a type of claim that has long been understood to sound in contract, rather than as the tort of conversion.”  They “see no sufficient justification for layering tort liability on top of the extensive existing remedies.”

The dissenters, on the other hand, assert that “unpaid wages diverge from garden-variety contractual promises to pay a debt” because of “the fundamental importance of earned wages to workers, their families, and the public.”  They claim that tort remedies would have a salutary effect:  “the possibility of an award that compensates an employee for everything the employee has lost as a result of the defendant’s failure to pay in full and on time is precisely the point of allowing such an action to proceed:  a feature, not a bug.”

The court affirms a divided Second District, Division Three, Court of Appeal.