Plaintiff Bisbing was employed as an emergency physician with the Maine Medical Center (“MMC”) and left voluntarily in 2000. He claimed that MMC owed him eight weeks of accrued vacation time. MMC countered that Bisbing, like all other MMC emergency doctors, worked an irregular schedule that had allowed ample vacation time. A jury found for Bisbing, and the presiding judge assessed treble damages and attorneys’ fees against MMC, in accordance with the Maine delayed wage statute. MMC appealed the award of treble damages and fees to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, asserting that the statute contained an implicit good-faith defense against such relief.
NELF filed an amicus brief supporting MMC, arguing that Maine case law limiting common-law punitive damages to egregious circumstances should apply to statutory multiple damages. An implied good-faith defense should prevent the imposition of a severe penalty on employers that have genuine factual disputes with employees about past due wages.
On April 10, 2003 the Supreme Judicial Court issued its opinion upholding the lower court ruling. The court recognized that the “effect of the statute is harsh.” Nevertheless, it indicated that any remedy lay with the legislature because the plain words of the Maine delayed wage statute (unlike most other state delayed wage statutes) require multiple damages and attorneys’ fees without regard to the good faith nature of the employer’s defense.