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Retaliation against FLSA complaints increases employer liability

Employers in California might worsen their position in some legal cases regarding the Fair Labor Standards Act if plaintiffs can prove that retaliation took place. FLSA complaints from employees generally involve failures to pay minimum wage or overtime. Negative actions, such as job termination or demotion, applied to employees after filing a legal complaint might expose employers to paying damages for emotional distress as well as back pay.

A recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit strengthened previous rulings from the Sixth and Seventh circuits that allowed employees to make claims for emotional distress that resulted from retaliation. The Fifth Circuit case revolved around an FLSA complaint made by a man who received discounted rent from an apartment company as pay for maintenance work. When he filed a lawsuit against the employer because of unpaid overtime, the company sent the man and his wife an eviction notice and a demand to repay the rent reductions.

Because this took place three days after he filed his complaint, the court decided that it demonstrated an act of retaliation. An amendment to the FLSA in 1977 enabled plaintiffs to recover damages for retaliation.

When a person discovers that an employer is not complying with wage and overtime laws, a discussion with an attorney about employee rights could reveal a path toward recovering unpaid wages and benefits. An attorney could compare the compensation records of the employee to the rules established by the FLSA. Violations may be documented by the lawyer for court filings. Prior to a court date, an attorney might approach the employer and seek a settlement. If this effort does not prove successful, then the lawyer could present the evidence to a judge and jury.

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