Bennett v. Shaheer
An individual who allegedly is a 49 percent owner can possess a valid claim for failure to pay commissions to an "employee," in violation of Connecticut General Statutes §31-72. Allegedly, the plaintiff, Teresa Bennett, owned 49 percent of US Asset Realty LLC. The defendant, Jihad Shaheer, owned the other 51 percent. Bennett alleged that commissions that she earned were withheld, because the start-up company experienced a cash flow problem. In May 2012, the defendant allegedly changed the locks and Web site access codes. Bennett sued, alleging that US Asset Realty and Shaheer failed to pay commissions, in violation of C.G.S. §31-72. The defendants moved to strike and argued that only employees, as opposed to partners, may possess a cause of action pursuant to C.G.S. §31-72. The statute provides, "When any employer fails to pay an employee wages in accordance with the provisions of section 31-71a to 31-71i, inclusive, or fails to compensate an employee in accordance with section 31-76k . . . such employee . . . may recover, in a civil action, twice the full amount of such wages. . . ." The statute defines "employee" as "any person suffered or permitted to work by an employer." The court found that the plaintiff's complaint adequately alleged that she was an employee and that the defendants failed to pay wages, in violation of C.G.S. §31-72. The defendants also moved to strike the plaintiff's Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act count. "[P]urely intracorporate conflicts do not constitute CUTPA violations," pursuant to Ostrowski v. Avery, a 1997 decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Conduct that is designed to usurp business opportunities or clientele may qualify as a CUTPA violation. The plaintiff's complaint alleged an intracorporate conflict and did not allege that the defendants usurped clients or business from US Asset Realty in favor of another business entity. "[T]he allegations of the complaint," wrote the court, "place the present dispute clearly within that class of intracorporate conflicts that do not constitute a violation of CUTPA." The court denied the motion to strike the §31-72 count and granted the motion to strike the CUTPA count.