School District Violated State Law by Deducting $1,200 From Employee’s Pay for Lost Keys

A court has ruled that the Bellflower Unified School District in Los Angeles County violated state law by deducting $1,200 from a teacher’s paycheck to cover the cost of rekeying schoolrooms after the teacher lost his keys.

“The employee did not authorize a wage deduction to rekey the school, and the Wage Garnishment Law forbids any employer, public or private, from resorting to extra-judicial wage seizures to recoup a debt from an employee,” the Second District Court of Appeal wrote in its September 14 unpublished decision in Bellflower Unified School District v. Karl Meeks.

The teacher had signed a school key policy that said the district will deduct $25 from an employee’s paycheck for losing keys, and further stating that “If a school needs to be rekeyed due to your loss, you may be charged the cost of rekeying the school,” with costs up to $15,000 for rekeying a high school.

The court ruled that the statement “you may be charged” does not equate to an agreement that the money could be garnished from wages in a lump sum.

In addition to spending an unknown amount to litigate the matter at the trial court and appellate court levels, the district now must repay the teacher $1,200 plus interest, and must reimburse him for his legal costs.

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