Following a Sixth Circuit case that has been around for quite some time, a recent case from the Firth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that employees who suffer harm as a result of their employers’ Fair Labor Standards Act (overtime) violations or acts of retaliation can pursue awards of damages for the emotional distress. To me, this makes a lot of sense. People who come into my office are often forced to work 50, 60, 70 and even 80 hours a week while being paid for only 40. This causes an extreme amount of stress.
The most recent case involved a man who was a maintenance worker at an apartment complex in Texas. He and his wife also lived in an apartment within the complex. The man received compensation for his work in two forms: pay and a discount rate on his apartment rent. At some point while living and working there, the maintenance worker launched a FLSA case against the complex’s owner and manager over unpaid overtime. Only three days later, the landlord gave the worker and his wife notice to vacate their apartment. The landlord alleged non-payment of rent, with the amount in dispute exactly equaling the amount of rent discounts the man had received during his term of employment.
The employee added a claim for retaliation to his lawsuit. As part of his FLSA retaliation claim, the man asked for emotional distress damages related to the abrupt and unexpected eviction. The employee received favorable verdicts from the jury on both his FLSA violation and his retaliation claims. The trial court refused to give the jury an instruction on emotional distress damages, and the man received no award regarding those damages.
In reversing the decision, the Fifth Circuit held that recovery for “not just wages and liquidated damages but also ‘such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate.’” It including emotional distress damages in the array of damages types for which an employee can recover in a retaliation case.
In the Sixth Circuit case that is extremely notable for employees in Tennessee who have overtime claims, a male African-American housing code inspector working for a city government in East Tennessee launched a FLSA equal-pay claim, which later came to include a retaliation claim as well.
The Court concluded that emotional distress clearly was one of the types of damages that Section 216(b) allowed injured employees to recover.
So what’s the takeaway? If you have an overtime claim, talk with an experienced FLSA attorney who knows your options and can discuss them with you. Overtime claims are not just a matter of being paid time and a half. Instead, they can cause a tremendous amount of mental and emotional stress. Talk to an attorney who is willing to listen and can best represent you.