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Beware triple whammy after FLSA retaliation

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Employers that retaliate against employees who file Fair Labor Standards Act claims don’t just face the prospect of owing back pay, plus double that amount in liquidated damages.

They also potentially face a damage award for the emotional distress the employee experiences because of retaliation. What’s retaliation in such a case? Almost anything, from a changed shift up to termination.

Recent case: Santiago worked as a maintenance man for an apartment complex. As part of his compensation, he earned a discounted rent for the unit he shared with his wife.

Santiago filed suit against the complex and its owner, alleging he had not been properly paid under the FLSA. Three days after the complex and its owners were served with the summons, the couple were served with notice of eviction for unpaid rent. The complex owner had withdrawn Santiago’s rent discount.

Santiago added retaliation to his suit, alleging he had suffered emotional harm. His wife added her own claims.

The case went to trial and the jury awarded Santiago damages for both his overtime claim and his retaliation claim. It calculated he was owed $1,426 in overtime, and $3,775 for retaliation. The court doubled the overtime award as the FLSA allows—plus gave $75,000 to Santiago’s attorneys for their legal fees.

The apartment complex filed an appeal. It argued the FLSA does not allow damages for emotional distress for retaliation. Santiago’s wife appealed, too, arguing she was also entitled to damages.

The appeals court said the FLSA only grants employees the right to sue, not spouses. But it did hold that Santiago could recover damages for the emotional harm he had suffered because of the retaliatory eviction. (Pinda v. JTCH Apartments, No. 15-10932, 5th Cir., 2016)

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