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The Fifth Circuit Rules that the FLSA Only Allows Employees (and Not Nonemployee Spouses) to Bring FLSA Retaliation Lawsuits, but that Employees Can Recover Emotional Distress Damages in Such Claims

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:

  1. Does the FLSA allow a retaliation victim to recover damages for emotional distress?
  2. 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.