The FLSA makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for complaining about workplace FLSA violations. See 29 U.S.C. 215(a)(3). Moreover, the FLSA’s damages provision enables an employee who wins a retaliation lawsuit to recover “such legal or equitable relief as may be appropriate to effectuate the purposes of [the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision], including without limitation employment, reinstatement, promotion, and the payment of wages lost and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.” See 29 U.S.C. 216(b).
Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has addressed whether employees who win FLSA retaliation lawsuits can recover punitive damages. However, I just re-read a couple of reported decisions from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in which the judges hold that employees can recover punitive damages. The first decision was issued in 2001 by the late (and great) Judge Louis K. Pollak and is styled Marrow v. Allstate Security & Investigative Services, Inc., 167 F. Supp. 2d 838 (E.D. Pa. 2001). The second decision was issued in 2015 by Judge Mark Kearney and is styled Jones v. Amerihealth Caritas, 95 F. Supp. 3d 807 (E.D. Pa. 2015). You can read these opinions for the details, but, in a nutshell, both Judges conclude that the deterrent impact of punitive damages is the type of relief that “effectuate[s] the purposes” of the FLSA’s anti retaliation provision.
I hope these excellent decisions from within the Third Circuit will help you next time you represent a Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Delaware employee pursuing an FLSA retaliation claim.