FLSA Retaliation – Can A Plaintiff Obtain Punitive Damages?

Federal appellate courts that have considered the issue are split on whether a plaintiff can recover punitive damages in a FLSA retaliation claim. Compare Travis, 921 F.2d at 111–12 (punitive damages are available in an FLSA retaliation claim), with Snapp v. Unlimited Concepts, Inc., 208 F.3d 928, 933–35 (11th Cir. 2000) (punitive damages are not available in a FLSA retaliation claim). The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has yet to address whether punitive damages are available under an anti-retaliation claim brought pursuant to the FLSA. However, in both Douglas and Rumbo, (see prior post), district courts within the Fifth Circuit held that punitive damages are not recoverable in a FLSA retaliation claim. The Ninth Circuit has affirmed an award of punitive damages in a FLSA-retaliation case but did not address the issue of whether the statute allows punitive damages. Lambert, 180 F.3d at 1011 (“Although the Seventh Circuit’s reasoning [in Travis] is persuasive, we do not reach the question because the defendants have waived the issue of the availability of punitive damages by failing to raise it below.”).

District courts are also split on this issue. Some district courts have held that punitive damages are recoverable in a FLSA retaliation claim. See, e.g., Wolfe v. Clear Title, LLC, 654 F. Supp. 2d 929, 937 (E.D. Ark. 2009) (holding that punitive damages are available in FLSA retaliation cases); Marrow v. Allstate Security & Investigative Servs., Inc., 167 F. Supp. 2d 838, 842-46 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (same). Other district courts have held they are not. See, e.g., Allen v. Garden City Co–Op, Inc., 651 F. Supp. 2d 1249 (D. Kan. 2009) (holding punitive damages unavailable under FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision); Johnston v. Davis Sec., Inc., 217 F. Supp. 2d 1224 (D. Utah 2002) (same); Huang v. Gateway Hotel Holdings, 520 F. Supp. 2d 1137, 1143 (E.D. Mo. 2007) (same); Lanza v. Sugarland Run Homeowners Ass’n, Inc., 97 F. Supp. 2d 737, 739-42 (E.D. Va. 2000) (same); Waldermeyer v. ITT Consumer Fin. Corp., 782 F. Supp. 86, 88 (E.D. Mo. 1991) (same).

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