The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that an employee can recover emotional distress damages when an employer retaliates against the employee for filing a claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In the lawsuit in question, an apartment complex maintenance worker, who lived on-site, sued his employer for unpaid overtime under the FLSA. The employer gave the worker notice to vacate his apartment for nonpayment of rent. The employer also billed the worker for the amount of the reduced rent the worker was paying. The worker responded by filing a retaliation claim.
The worker was successful in his overtime claim. The lower court did not, however, permit a jury instruction on the emotional distress damages for the retaliation claim.
The court of appeals ruled that the FLSA anti-retaliation provision provides for damages of back wages, liquidated damages and other “such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate,” which the court said included damages for emotional harm caused by the retaliation. The court of appeals sent the case back to the lower court.
The worker’s wife also sued, claiming she was adversely affected by the additional rent demands, but the appeals court ruled that only employees could bring claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
This decision allows employees to recover uncapped emotional distress damages for retaliation claims asserted under the FLSA. Employers should carefully handle employees who complain about wage and hour issues, and be cautioned not to take adverse action against them in retaliation for asserting such complaints. Employers should also consider the risks of altering employment terms and conditions after an employee has made a complaint about wages.
— Elaina Smiley, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, firstname.lastname@example.org
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