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Emotional distress damages in FLSA claims

A recent appeals court decision could affect employees in New York who are pursuing compensation for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a plaintiff in an FLSA claim could recover damages for emotional injuries caused by FLSA retaliation. The decision could make FLSA retaliation claims more expensive for employers to settle.

The recent FLSA case involved a man who rented a unit from JTCH Apartments at a discounted rate in exchange for maintenance work that he performed at the apartment complex. The man filed a lawsuit against JTCH seeking back payment for overtime. Three days after JTCH learned about the impending litigation, the apartment owner issued a notice to the plaintiff and his wife telling them to vacate their apartment because they owed rent. The notice informed the couple that they owed back rent equaling the rent reductions that the husband had received for his maintenance work.

After the couple moved out of their apartment, the man's lawsuit was amended to include a complaint of FLSA retaliation in addition to the unpaid overtime complaint. The man's wife also became a plaintiff in the lawsuit. A jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in both of their complaints and awarded the plaintiffs $1,426.50 for liquidated damages and $76,732.88 for attorney's fees. The plaintiffs appealed on the grounds that the jury should have awarded damages for emotional harm, and the appeals court ruled in the plaintiffs' favor.

It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who complains about unpaid overtime or minimum wage violations. An attorney may be able to help such an employee pursue financial compensation for the retaliatory action.

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