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Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

February 15, 2018

MASTER HAND CONTRACTORS, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued October 31, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 09 C 07255 - John J. Tharp, Jr., Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and Easterbrook and Sykes, Circuit Judges.


         Dariusz Jaworski, Boguslaw Moskal, and Ryszard Bester were never paid for construction services they performed for Master Hand Contractors, Inc. They filed this lawsuit to force Master Hand to pay up. The district court sided with the plaintiffs through two partial summary judgments and a bench trial. Liability in the neighborhood of $340, 000 now hangs over Master Hand's head.

         This appeal asks us to review certain elements of the judge's various rulings. We decline to do so. Master Hand inexplicably failed to submit critical district-court opinions with its opening brief. This is a flagrant violation of Circuit Rule 30 that we cannot overlook. Accordingly, we summarily affirm the judgment as a sanction.

         This remedy alone does not make things right. Master Hand's appeal is patently frivolous. Its arguments, once deciphered, are nothing more than naked assertions. And they fail on their face. Jaworski and his coappellees should not have been made to defend against such an appeal. As an additional sanction, we order Master Hand to pay their attorneys' fees and costs.

         I. Background

         There are seven parties in this case, but we simplify things as follows: The defendants ("Master Hand") are general contractors in Illinois. The plaintiffs ("Jaworski") provided electrical, mechanical, and other construction services to Master Hand over several years. Some of these services went unpaid, so Jaworski filed suit in federal court. Specifically, he alleged that Master Hand violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and three state laws: the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, and the Employee Classification Act. Jaworski sought backpay, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees.

         This appeal centers almost entirely on the claim under the Employee Classification Act, which makes it unlawful for contractors (i.e., construction firms) to misclassify an employee as an independent contractor. 820 III. Comp. Stat. § 185/20. Unlike the two other state labor laws, the Classification Act presumes that the complainant is an employee unless the contractor can prove otherwise. See id. § 185/10(b). If the contractor cannot meet its burden, the misclassified employee is entitled to double "the amount of any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to the person by reason of the violation." Id. § 185/60(a)(1) (emphasis added).

         Jaworski alleged that Master Hand misclassified him as an independent contractor and that he lost compensation as a result. Master Hand disagreed on both points, arguing that Jaworski could not have been its employee because he was engaged in an independently established trade. But even if Jaworski were an employee, Master Hand asserted, he still could not prevail on a claim under the Classification Act. Jaworski did not miss out on compensation "by reason of the [classification] violation, " id., but rather because Master Hand simply ran out of money to pay him. The well ran dry, so to speak.

         These arguments were resolved below in three phases. In the first order granting partial summary judgment, the district judge held that Master Hand had misclassified Jaworski as an independent contractor in violation of the Act. In the second order, the judge grappled with what precisely to do about it. The Act allows employees to collect compensation lost by virtue of their misclassification, but nowhere does it lay out what compensation an employee is actually owed. The judge ultimately concluded that a claimant under the Act is entitled to the compensation guaranteed by the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act but without having to prove that he is an employee for the purpose of those statutes. This is important because unlike the Classification Act, the two wage-payment statutes do not grant plaintiffs a starting presumption that they are employees. See id. §§ 105/3(c)-(d), 115/2.

         The case then proceeded to a bench trial on the remaining issues, and the judge ruled for Jaworski on all counts. He found that Master Hand violated the Fair Labor Standards Act and the two state wage-payment laws in addition to the violation of the Classification Act. The judge also rejected Master Hand's defense of nonpayment by reason of insolvency. He then ordered Master Hand to pay nearly $200, 000 in damages for all four of its statutory violations, plus more than $150, 000 in attorneys' fees.

         Master Hand appealed, arguing that the judge made certain factual and legal errors regarding the Classification Act claim. Specifically, Master Hand challenges the judge's misclassification determination, his decision to allow damages for the Classification Act violation in accordance ...

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