Worker's Emotional Distress Damages for Retaliation Upheld by 5th Cir.

By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 29, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal appeals court ruled that a worker can claim emotional distress damages for an employer's retaliation on a wage claim.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals joined other federal circuits in considering remedies available to workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The appellate court said the FLSA authorizes emotional damages as "legal and equitable relief" on account of employer retaliation.

In reversing and remanding, the appeals panel said the trial court must consider additional evidence of emotional distress and award damages accordingly. Santiago Pineda won only overtime and retaliation damages at trial.

Employer's Retaliation

Pineda leased an apartment from JTCH Apartments, and he did maintenance work in and around the apartment complex. As part of Pineda's compensation for this work, JTCH discounted Pena's rent.

He filed his lawsuit initially for unpaid overtime, but after the summons was served, his landlord served an eviction notice Pineda. He then amended his complaint for retaliation.

Emotional Distress Damages

At a pre-trial conference, Pineda unsuccessfully asked for a jury instruction on emotional distress damages for his retaliation claim. The jury found for Pineda on both his overtime wage claim and his retaliation claim, resulting in total of $5,210.

His attorney sought more than $100,000 in fees, but the judge awarded $76,732.88 because the fee request was "grossly disproportionate to the modest recovery."

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