Workers filing suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act can seek emotional damages as part of their claims, the Fifth Circuit ruled in a complex decision Monday that upheld a jury’s verdict in favor of tenants in an apartment complex who’d received discounted rent for maintenance work.The National Law Review explains that:
On December 19, 2016, the Fifth Circuit joined the Sixth and Seventh Circuits in holding that “employees” under the FLSA may recover emotional distress damages in FLSA retaliation actions, finding that the district court erred by refusing to instruct the jury on the availability of emotional distress damages for an employee’s retaliation claim. In so holding in Pineda, et al. v. JTCH Apartments, L.L.C., et al., the Fifth Circuit did affirm the district court’s ruling that only an “employee” may bring a retaliation claim under the FLSA.
The Fair Labor Standards Act is a federal law that primarily establishes the duty under federal law of an employer to pay minimum wage and overtime to that employer's employees. But, it also establishes a cause of action for harm suffered by an employee to retaliate for exercising his or her rights under the Act under 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). This states that:
[I]t shall be unlawful for any person . . . to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee[.]
Since the holding is limited to retaliation claims, it won't add emotional distress damages to the relief available for run of the mill minimum wage and overtime violations. Wage theft, since it prevents an employee from receiving even minimum wage, is also sometimes prosecuted under the Act.