Where should I go from here…?

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Where should I go from here…?

I am a kitchen and bath designer. Previously employed with a company, I began

working on a client’s project. During this time, the client paid for a closet program to be installed on the design program the company uses to design with because the owner is too cheap to pay for the program himself. I had a few appointments with this client and began working on his project. About 6 months ago, I left the company on maternity leave but in email form, agreed to continue working on an hourly part time basis. Not much work for this client’s project was completed during those 6 weeks. Once those 6 weeks were coming to an end, I asked that my position be renegotiated to an independent contractor position to continue working from home. We agreed to a commission structure in an email and I provided my work to the company. Several more appointments were fulfilled as the project started to move further along. Recently, after not having been paid for over 20 completed projects, I informed the owners that I would no longer continue working on any projects until I was paid for those completed. The owners decided to end our business relationship. They continued to refuse to pay me and per the email from human resources, in lieu of any payment I was keeping any materials I had in my possession that belonged to that company. We never agreed or spoke of who had claim to layouts, paperwork, blueprints, etc. once I began working from home. This particular client I was working with is now threatening lawsuit against me because of the closets program he paid for on the design program. This program is still owned by the company and they only need to get a key reissued with the program installed onto it. I don’t have this in my possession or have the ability to rectify this.

Asked on October 3, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

1) If you were supposed to be paid for the work you did per the agreement you and they entered into, if they will not pay you, you can sue them for the money. A commission agreement is a contract; the parties to a contract are obligated to fulfill their obligations under it, such as paying for completed work per the terms of the agreement. You could sue for "breach of contract."
Or at least that would be the case if you had not agreed to take the materials in lieu of payment--i.e. if they unilaterally said they would not pay you but told you to take the materials, to which you never actually agreed. They cannot agree or decide for you what you will accept for you; you would have to affirmatively agree to accept the materials instead. But if you agreed to accept the materials in lieu of payment, you can be held to that, and the materials are all you would get.
2) As to the program, it depends on whether, under the terms of whatever agreement (even an oral one) which existed between the employer and client in regards to the client paying for it, the company owns the program outright and therefore could legally give it to you; or whether the client kept ownership and just allowed or licensed the company to use it, in which case they could not give it to you.
However, if the program is not owned by them and so they can't give it to you, that may mean that they are in breach of their agreement to give you materials in lieu of payment, since they can't turn this (presumably valuable) one over to you; in that case, their breach may free you up to sue them for the money owed, since party's breach of an agreement enables the other party to treat the agreement as terminated (or over) due to the breach.


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