Emotional Distress & Punitive Damages Unvailable in FLSA Retaliation Claims

12 January 2011 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog

The FLSA imposes minimum labor standards upon employers, including the payment of a minimum wage and overtime pay for covered employees. In order to facilitate enforcement, the FLSA includes an anti-retaliation provision which makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee who complains of wage and hour violations.

An issue in FLSA retaliation cases is whether a Plaintiff may recover damages for emotional distress and obtain punitive damages. The FLSA does not explicitly address the availability of compensatory or punitive damages. Although the Fifth Circuit has not addressed this particular issue either, it has held that FLSA and ADEA remedies must be interpreted consistently since the two acts contain similar damage provisions. The Fifth Circuit has also previously ruled that the ADEA does not provide for emotional distress or punitive damages in Dean v. American Security Ins. Co. Now a recent decision from the Western District of Texas holds that these types of damages are not available in FLSA retaliation actions either.

In Douglas v. Mission Chevrolet, a former employee of a car dealership filed suit claiming his employer terminated him after he complained of wage and hour violations at the dealership. He sought to recover emotional distress and punitive damages. The dealership moved to dismiss, arguing that neither emotional distress damages nor punitive damages are available remedies under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provisions. Following Fifth Circuit precedent in Dean, the District Court granted the dealership’s motion and dismissed the damage claims in these words:

Because of the Fifth Circuit’s expressed desire for remedies under the ADEA and the FLSA to be interpreted consistently, and because the Fifth Circuit has held that emotional distress damages and punitive damages are unavailable under the ADEA, this Court holds that emotional distress damages and punitive damages are unavailable in an FLSA anti-retaliation claim.

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