Employees asserting a claim for retaliation under the FLSA are entitled to seek emotional distress damages, according to a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

In Pineda v. JTCH Apartment, LLC, Plaintiff claimed that he was retaliated against by his former employer after he filed a lawsuit seeking allegedly unpaid overtime wages.  Although Pineda put on evidence of his purported emotional distress (including testimony about marital discord, sleepless nights and anxiety), the District Court refused to instruct the jury that they could award emotional distress damages for Pineda’s FLSA retaliation claim.  Pineda ultimately prevailed on his retaliation claim.

On appeal, the Fifth Circuit held that emotional distress damages are available in FLSA retaliation cases, and that the District Court erred by not instructing the jury to consider whether Pineda was entitled to such relief.  While the Court acknowledged that the FLSA does not provide explicitly for emotional distress damages, it noted that the statute’s anti-retaliation provision allows for “such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate” and that this “expansive language . . . should be read to include the compensation for emotional distress . . .”

The Fifth Circuit is now the third Circuit Court (joining both the Sixth and the Seventh Circuits) to hold that emotional distress damages are available in FLSA retaliation cases.  The issue is unresolved in other circuits, although the First, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have all maintained awards of emotional distress damages in FLSA retaliation cases, without deciding whether such damages were appropriate.

This case illustrates the courts’ readiness to award appropriate damages for acts of retaliation. Employers are encouraged to train managers to be cautious in taking action against employees who have asserted statutory rights.