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5th circuit ruling may affect FLSA lawsuits

Workers and employers in New York and the rest of the nation should be aware of the effect that a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit may have on certain lawsuits concerning FLSA violations. Experts believe that the decision may make it more difficult for employers to prevail in some limited circumstances.

The court ruling found that employees can pursue and recover damages for the emotional injury that was caused as a result of workplace retaliation. This was in response to a lawsuit that was filed by a couple against the husband's former employer. The couple resided in an apartment leased to the wife by the husband's employer, for whom he performed maintenance work for the complex in exchange for discounted rent. Three days after the husband filed a suit against the employer for unpaid overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the couple received an eviction notice for the nonpayment of rent. The employer demanded a payment equal to the amount of the rent deductions the wife had received during the course of the husband's employment. In response, the couple vacated the apartment.

The wife joined her husband's suit by adding a compliant of retaliation by the employer based on the back rent that was demanded. A jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff on the overtime payment and retaliation claims. The plaintiff then filed an appeal of the damages amount asserting that the jury should have been advised of damages for emotional harm. The 5th Circuit concluded that an employee could recover damages for emotional distress due to retaliation.

Employees who believe that their FLSA rights have been violated should consult with an employment law attorney. This statute deals with matters such as wage and hour violations and employee misclassification, and thus it is unlikely that that this decision will be that far-reaching.

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