If I take them to court what could I reasonably expect to ask for in penalties and interest, etc.
I realize there is a waiting time penalty that is a maximum of 30 days pay, but what other things could be added? Interest, penalties, fees,etc?
A: In employment cases, contract damages include salary, bonus, overtime pay, sick leave, life insurance, medical and dental insurance, pension and retirement benefits, etc. There may also be noncash perquisites and benefits to consider: automobiles, dependent care, vacation facilities, country club dues, etc.
Statutory damages where the employer has failed to pay minimum wage permit double damages for the amount under minimum wage not paid timely. However, this begs the question of whether or not you can impose the California minimum wage on the employer while at work in China. I believe that this claim would be rejected by a court, since you are not subject to either state or federal minimum wage law -- unless you can show a written contract under which the employer and employee agreed to subject themselves to California law (which does happen, so read your contract, if you have one).
If a lawsuit is the answer what are the chances of winning, and general costs might be, and would they be responsible for the attorney and court fees?
A: For unpaid wages, and any expenses the chances are 100% -- assuming that you can prove the agreement, hopefully via a written contract. For anything above that, it depends on whether or not you have agreed in writing to submit to California law. If you have, then you could get attorney's fees. Otherwise, you may not be able to recover anything other than the amount of unpaid wages and expenses.
If they underpaid me $10,000 over a year and didn't pay my housing for over a year and I have e-mails from the CFO/comptroller stating that they do agree they owe the money, isn't it a fairly open and closed case?
A: Nothing is open and shut in a courtroom. However, assuming that you can prove that the emails actually came from the employer, then I would say that an admission in the emails would be extremely damaging evidence in your favor.
Do the courts tend to side with the employee or employer?
A: Courts don't tend to side one way or the other, except in cases where the employee is a minimum wage worker. When it's obvious that the employee is naive and has been taken advantage of, the court's tenor changes. But, whether the employee is educated and well compensated, the court is objective.
Is their saying they just didn't have the money to pay me and are making payments an acceptable out for them?
A: No, it's absurd. However, if the employer is really insolvent, then your lawsuit could potentially cause a bankruptcy filing -- in which case you have a priority claim for $11,725 in wages. But, if the money isn't there, then you won't collect. So, the real question is whether or not they're jerking your chain or telling you the truth. I have no means of determining credibility here. I'm generally disposed to not believe employers -- so I suspect they have the money. But, that's just my speculation -- you may have more credible information available from inside the business via coworkers.
Hope this helps.