from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Bradley McCall,
employer appeals from the district court's ruling
awarding a former employee unpaid commission and attorney
W. Carney of Carney & Appleby P.L.C., Des Moines, and
David L. Brown of Hansen, McClintock & Riley, Des Moines,
Kristina M. Stanger and Mitchell R. Kunert of Nyemaster
Goode, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.
by Vogel, P.J., and Vaitheswaran and Potterfield, JJ.
Short sued his former employer, Elliott Equipment Company,
under the Iowa Wage Payment Collection Law, found in Iowa
Code chapter 91A (2015). Following a bench trial, the
district court awarded Short $4660.22 in unpaid commission
and $44, 397.75 in attorney fees. Elliott Equipment appeals
from the district court's decision, claiming the district
court erred in its determination that Short was entitled to
commission and that it abused its discretion in awarding the
amount of attorney fees after finding they were the
"usual and necessary attorney's fees in recovering
unpaid wages and expenses." See Iowa Code
Background Facts and Proceedings.
was an at-will employee of Elliott Equipment from April 2012
until March 2014, when he voluntarily terminated his
employment with the company. Short was hired to sell garbage
trucks-both to private entities and municipalities. Elliott
Equipment paid Short an annual base salary of $35, 000 plus a
$15, 000 draw against commission for the first year.
According to the "Commission Policy and Territory
Agreement" he signed, the company's policy was that
"[a]ll commissionable new equipment sales with profit
levels up to 25% will be paid a commission of 1% of the new
equipment sales price not including the new chassis portion
of the sale if applicable."
was specifically assigned to Missouri as his sales territory.
During his time with the company, he pursued the City of
Columbia as a target customer. Elliott Equipment had sold the
municipality one truck approximately two years before Short
began his employment, but it did not have an ongoing
relationship or contract with the city.
the fall and winter of 2013, the City of Columbia purchased
nine garbage trucks from Elliott Equipment. Short was the
employee who submitted bids to the city and who ordered the
trucks from the manufacturers. None of the nine trucks had
been delivered to the city by the time Short left the
DaLena Elliott-the wife of the owner of the company, Gene
Elliott, and the person who was in charge of payroll at the
time-sent an email to Gene and Rick Vanwassenhove, the
company's vice president and the person in charge of
signing off on all commissions, asking, "So was the
final decision to pay [Short] for 50% commission on ALL
Cit[y] of Columbia sales? Looks like they're starting to
come through in May." Vanwassenhove responded, "I
would wait and see how much his mistakes end up costing us
after all is said and done before paying if up to me, "
and Gene responded that he agreed with Vanwassenhove.
salesperson who replaced Short, Patrick Wisor, delivered the
trucks to the City of Columbia as they were ready, throughout
the summer of 2014. A number of trucks had issues-either at
the fault of the manufacturer or Short-and Wisor spent a
large amount of time correcting those issues so the city
would ultimately accept the trucks and issue final payment on
June, DaLena emailed Vanwassenhove asking "what [he]
would like to pay out to Patrick Wisor on the prior sales
he's assisted with that were Zac Short's and also
what [he] would like [her] to extend to Zac for those sales
prior to his depart[ure]." Vanwassenhove responded,
telling her to pay Wisor for half of the normal commission
Short would have received. He also indicated, "I am
finding things out about [Short] since he left that are of
low honor and integrity. I would not pay him another dollar
at this point."
on the company's own calculation, 1% of profits on the
trucks amounted to $8331.71. Of that commission, Wisor was
paid $3576.95. No action was taken with the remaining
July, Short emailed Vanwassenhove asking "how things
were coming with the trucks[ he] sold to Columbia." The
email also stated, "I was expecting to have received
some commission from something by now. Let me know."
Three days later, Vanwassenhove responded to the email,
stating, "We will not be paying commission for the items
which you started the sales process on but did not finish all
the way through the completion and equipment delivery
number of emails were exchanged between Short and various
personnel at Elliott Equipment.
August 18 email, Gene informed Short he did not "think
[Short was] owed one cent from Elliott Equipment
Company." The email included several reasons the company
would not be paying Short, including that "[p]art of the
sales process is to follow through with everything that has
to do with the sale" and salesmen "are not paid a
commission until all those things are done"; that he
"failed to turn in the bid [to the City of St. Louis] or
turned it in late"; and that he was "trying to sell
[a private hauler] a piece of equipment that was coming from
somewhere other than Elliott Equipment Company."
and DeLena were also included on the email. Within a few
minutes of the email being sent to Short, Vanwassenhove
responded to Gene and DaLena with the following:
It is really a simple thing if anyone else ever asks if they
will get commission for items sold while they were our
salesman of record . . . If you sell it, it gets delivered
and we get paid before the salesman quits then the ...