Business of Law

Ex-Associate Set for Trial in Small-Claims Suit Against Becker & Poliakoff in $2K Pay Dispute

Many an associate has complained about the sudden pay cuts imposed by a number of law firms in recent years as they struggled with a dismal economy. But Richard Valuntas didn’t just talk the talk.

In a lawsuit that has already cost both sides far more in legal fees than the $2,000 at issue in the pay dispute, the Florida lawyer contends that his now-former firm, Becker & Poliakoff, breached its contract to him and fraudulently misrepresented its intentions concerning what was originally billed as a 12 percent associate pay “deferral,” reports the Daily Business Review. Its article is reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

Set to go to trial next week in Palm Beach County Court, the hard-fought case has clearly aroused anger on both sides.

Valuntas complains that he was notified of the cut just before he was to get his paycheck in May 2008 and had to borrow money to pay child-care expenses as a result. “That’s called stealing my money,” he says of the firm’s conduct. “They basically took an interest-free loan off the backs of their associates.”

However, managing partner Alan Becker says the firm did what it had to do to avoid layoffs in the midst of an economic downturn and defends its decision to repay the deferred salary amount only to attorneys “who were loyal” and stayed with Becker & Poliakoff.

“We think he’s entitled to nothing,” he says of Valuntas, who reportedly began receiving his regular salary again in August 2008 but quit at that point after being partially reimbursed for the deferred pay. Those who continued on with Becker & Poliakoff after that apparently received not only their regular salary but reimbursement for the full 12 percent pay deferral in the intervening months.

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