Retaliation for Opposing Wage Violations
Sticking up for yourself and coworkers takes courage. Retaliation is a primary concern for employees who wish to do the right thing and speak out against an employer’s minimum wage and overtime violations. Employers who retaliate against employees for raising wage concerns seek to instill fear in their workforces so they can continue their unlawful wage practices. Do not be discouraged. Nashville wage and hour lawyer Curt Masker has significant experience handling retaliation claims for Tennessee workers.
Employees are protected under federal law against retaliation for complaining about their wages and overtime pay. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes employment standards including minimum wage, overtime, and recordkeeping. Under the FLSA, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee “because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under [the FLSA], or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee.” 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3).
In other words, it is illegal for any employer to fire, demote or in any other way discriminate against you for exercising your FLSA rights. Common examples of conduct protected under the FLSA include:
- Complaining to human resources or your boss about unpaid overtime
- Reporting the employer to the U.S. Department of Labor
- Complaining on behalf of other employees who do not receive proper breaks
- Filing or joining a wage and hour lawsuit
If you have not yet submitted a complaint, be sure your complaint:
- Is in writing
- Clearly states that you are asserting rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act
- Is adversarial in nature (not a mere expression of concern or frustration)
- Is copied and you keep a copy for your records
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has held that an oral complaint can be legally sufficient, you should complain in writing whenever possible. The complaint should state that you are asserting your rights under the FLSA because it must be sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it as an assertion of rights protected by the FLSA. Doing so provides your employer with fair notice of your FLSA concerns. Even if your complaints turn out to not have legal merit, you are still protected if your complaint is made in good faith.Damages for FLSA Retaliation
If you were terminated in violation of the FLSA, you may be entitled to significant damages, including:
- Back pay
- Front pay
- Liquidated damages, i.e., if your lost wages equal $20,000, you may recover up to $40,000
- Emotional distress and Punitive damages
- Attorney’s fees and costs
In the Sixth Circuit, the appellate jurisdiction for federal courts in Tennessee, both emotional distress and punitive damages may be available for FLSA retaliation claims.
In Travis v. Gary Community Mental Health Center, Inc., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that the FLSA allows for compensatory and punitive damages in appropriate cases, particularly in light of the Act’s amendments. 921 F.2d 108, 112 (1990). The court noted that damages under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision had originally been limited to double an employee’s lost wages, but then Congress amended the statute in 1977 to allow for “such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate to effectuate the purposes of” the anti-retaliation provision “without limitation” to the other enumerated available remedies. Id. at 112. Ultimately, the court held that there is no basis in either the language of the FLSA or its legislative history to not allow punitive damages as part of the FLSA’s broad array of legal and equitable tools. See also Hanson v. McBride, No. 3:18-cv-00524, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12887, at *6 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 27, 2020) (permitting plaintiff to seek punitive damages for claim of FLSA retaliation).
Similarly, in Moore v. Freeman, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that emotional distress damages are available for claims of FLSA retaliation. 355 F.3d 558, 563 (2004). In noting that the Eighth and Ninth Circuits have allowed damages for emotional distress to stand, the court ultimately concluded that such damages are within the ambit of the FLSA under subsection 216(b). Sixteen years later, Moore remains good law in the Sixth Circuit.
More recently, the Fifth Circuit adopted the Sixth and Seventh Circuits’ analysis and held that the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision permits emotional distress damages. Pineda v. JTCH Apartments, LLC, 843 F.3d 1062, 1066 (2016).
Based on the holdings in Travis, Moore, and Pineda, victims claiming retaliation under the FLSA may seek emotional distress and punitive damages in the Sixth Circuit.Contact a Nashville Overtime Retaliation Attorney Today
Workers deserve to be paid in accordance with the law for all of the work they perform. If you have been retaliated against after complaining about your employer’s overtime violations, contact Retaliation Lawyer Curt Masker right away at 866-931-0146 or email him.