A recent New Jersey Law Journal story by Michael Booth, “Justices Hear Dispute Over $2 Million Fee Award in Employment Case” reports that a Princeton financial services company asked the New Jersey Supreme Court to reinstate a more than $2 million attorney fee award for defeating an ex-employee's lawsuit.
Noren was employed by Heartland from April 1998 to June 2005 as a “relationship manager,” a role in which he sold payment processing services. The contract he signed provided that he and Heartland both “irrevocably waive any right to trial by jury in any suit, action or proceeding under, in connection with or to enforce this agreement,” according to court documents. Another contract provision awarded fees and costs “[i]n any suit, action or proceeding arising out of or related to this agreement.”
Noren was fired in 2005. His suit was eventually whittled down to the two claims: breach of contract and the CEPA violation. His jury trial demand was denied based on the waiver provision and, after 22 days of bench trial, Bergen County Superior Court Judge Susan Steele dismissed both claims. She awarded Heartland $2.06 million in fees and costs for the defense of both claims, finding them so intertwined that the fees could not be apportioned, the decision stated.
In his appeal, Noren did not dispute the jury waiver’s applicability to the contract claim, or the notion that fees may be awarded based on Heartland’s success in defeating that claim. But he did dispute the waiver’s applicability to the CEPA claim, and the corresponding fee award based on the statute.