The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals was recently faced with two issues of
first impression regarding the retaliation provision of the Fair Labor
Standards Act in the case of
Pineda v. JTCH Apartments, LLC:
- Does the FLSA allow a retaliation victim to recover damages for emotional distress?
- Does the FLSA protect a nonemployee spouse from retaliation?
In this case, Pineda and his wife, lived in an apartment complex owned
by JTCH Apartments. Pineda did maintenance work around the apartment complex
and, as part of his compensation, JTCH reduced their rent. Pineda filed
a lawsuit against JTCH, his employer, for unpaid overtime. Shortly after
being served with the lawsuit, JTCH served Pineda and his wife with a
notice to vacate their apartment for nonpayment of rent equal to the rent
reductions Pineda had received over the period of Pineda’s employment.
The couple vacated their apartment and then amended the lawsuit to join
Pineda’s wife as a plaintiff and to include a retaliation claim.
The lower court dismissed the spouse’s retaliation claim because
the court concluded that only employees could bring a retaliation claim.
Also, during the trial, the lower court refused to charge the jury on
the recovery of emotional distress damages for Pineda’s retaliation claim.
Pineda and his wife appealed the dismissal of the spouse’s retaliation
claim and the failure to charge the jury on Pineda’s recovery of
emotional distress damages.
Relying on the express statutory language creating a retaliation cause
of action, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s
dismissal of the nonemployee spouse’s claim ruling that nonemployees
cannot bring a FLSA retaliation claim.
However, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals, consistent with other Circuit Courts
of Appeals including the Eleventh Circuit (covering Florida) also ruled
that emotional distress damages are recoverable to a prevailing plaintiff
in a FLSA retaliation claim.
Why is this important? Employers must ensure that their conduct in employment
related matters is consistent with applicable state and Federal guidelines
to avoid facing immeasurable damages for things such as emotional distress damages.
For more information, about how to avoid and defend against retaliation
claims, call us to speak with our knowledge Florida employment and business
litigation attorneys at Rosenthal Law Group today.