So I accepted a 2nd job about 8 months ago as an elderly care taker for my landlord's parents. After a year their mental condition had deteriorated enough that I informed by landlord/employer that they needed more professional live-in care and would be resigning from the job in 30 days.

Instead of a last paycheck I got a long letter detailing how I was financially responsible for several appliances her senile father had taken apart trying to "fix" them, and that my final paycheck was being retained as payment. Is this legal? I never signed anything accepting responsibility for stuff her senile father broke. Now instead of just quitting a job I have a letter here claiming I owe her several thousand dollars and claiming that my final check is forfeit.

She is a powerful attorney in California and I'm a regular working stiff. This is a bit out of my league and intimidating.

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    The best way to fight a lawyer is with another lawyer, see if you can get one.
    – Stackstuck
    Feb 28, 2018 at 8:19

2 Answers 2


No employer has ever the right to withhold your pay check for work you have done. It is strictly illegal. Even if they had 100% evidence that you caused damage and were responsible for that damage, they still can't withhold your pay. They have to pay you, and then they can try to take you to court. The reason for this law is exactly cases like yours, where people try to avoid payment.

If the "powerful attorney" tells you that you are not getting paid, then that "powerful attorney" is making a big mistake, because any lawyer would love to take your case to court and see the judge cutting the "powerful attorney" down to size.

If you don't want a lawyer now, then you can write a letter by registered mail telling them that you worked for them, how much the payment due is, that they are legally required to make that payment, and that you will take them to court if they are not paying. If there is a conflict between law and a "powerful attorney", the law wins, and the law is on your side.


Keeping your paycheck and imagining that you have to pay the damages is illegal. You do have a verbal contract for services to care for the elderly couple, which is a valid contract, and as you say, that contract did not contain details about your responsibility for damage to property; and responsibility for that property can't be assumed to be in the contract as an after thought by the other party, the landlord. But do you have anything in writing? Letters about the job when you first started? Emails? Phone conversations you remember? Gather those materials and write down what you remember.

You do need to find legal help. Try contacting Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA). They offer free and low cost legal help. They can help you with options to take and how to respond to the landlord's demands. If they can help you respond to the landlord/lawyer, the fact that you have talked with MLSA will show the landlord/attorney you have been getting legal advice, and could defuse the situation. The landlord's motivation may simply to try and take advantage of you, and the pushback involved with you talking to MLSA could result in them backing off.

Another option is to talk to a lawyer in your town; find one who advertises free initial consultations. I assume you're not going to be able to pay much, if anything, but you may find a lawyer who would pick up the phone or write a short letter for free (pro bono) in order to help you out. Even if the lawyer doesn't specialize in contracts, they may help. If the landlord/attorney is contacted by a lawyer who is helping you, that will show them you're serious about defending yourself.

Don't ignore the letter or the situation; that will make worse the legal situation you've been thrown into. Unfortunately, people like the landlord/attorney like to break contracts and intimidate people into monetary settlements when they're unhappy with a situation. So find some legal help and defend yourself.

  • To be clear, she IS the hotshot attourney. But your advice seems pretty sound. We do have a written contract for the job I was performing. Also just an update, she decided we owe a lot more for a ton of other stuff and is now trying to get me to give her information to file a lien against our house. I think she just wants our property.
    – TCAT117
    Feb 28, 2018 at 15:18
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    OK, call MLSA or find a lawyer in your town. Gnasher's advice is good, too; you can defend yourself and a MT judge would love to embarrass a CA lawyer. Another idea is to talk to the state bar where she is licensed and ask them about her conduct. If CA, call The State Bar of California and talk to their Conduct and Discipline point person. calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/Conduct-Discipline If MT, check montanaodc.org Both can take disciplinary action against attorneys, i.e. levy fines and in some cases disbar them. Feb 28, 2018 at 15:29
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    And BTW, state bar disciplinary committees can be very effective. I once dealt for months with an attorney who had obvious confilcts of interest, so I talked to the state bar committee. The effect was immediate; the lawyer announced his resignation from his city/county job the next day. Feb 28, 2018 at 16:36
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    I just spoke to the county attourney and basically I'll definiteley get the paycheck back. As for all the money she claims I owe, she'd have to press a lawsuit, which she might since shes got the time and money and I dont.
    – TCAT117
    Feb 28, 2018 at 16:55
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    That was a good idea; sounds like the county attorney wants to help. Ask he/she for a referral for an attorney. Feb 28, 2018 at 18:09

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