Emotional Distress & Punitive Damages Unvailable in FLSA Retaliation Claims


The FLSA imposes minimum labor standards upon employers, including the payment of a minimum wage and overtime pay for covered employees. In order to facilitate enforcement, the FLSA includes an anti-retaliation provision which makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee who complains of wage and hour violations.

An issue in FLSA retaliation cases is whether a Plaintiff may recover damages for emotional distress and obtain punitive damages. The FLSA does not explicitly address the availability of compensatory or punitive damages. Although the Fifth Circuit has not addressed this particular issue either, it has held that FLSA and ADEA remedies must be interpreted consistently since the two acts contain similar damage provisions. The Fifth Circuit has also previously ruled that the ADEA does not provide for emotional distress or punitive damages in Dean v. American Security Ins. Co. Now a recent decision from the Western District of Texas holds that these types of damages are not available in FLSA retaliation actions either.

In Douglas v. Mission Chevrolet, a former employee of a car dealership filed suit claiming his employer terminated him after he complained of wage and hour violations at the dealership. He sought to recover emotional distress and punitive damages. The dealership moved to dismiss, arguing that neither emotional distress damages nor punitive damages are available remedies under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provisions. Following Fifth Circuit precedent in Dean, the District Court granted the dealership’s motion and dismissed the damage claims in these words:

Because of the Fifth Circuit’s expressed desire for remedies under the ADEA and the FLSA to be interpreted consistently, and because the Fifth Circuit has held that emotional distress damages and punitive damages are unavailable under the ADEA, this Court holds that emotional distress damages and punitive damages are unavailable in an FLSA anti-retaliation claim.

The publications contained in this site do not constitute legal advice. Legal advice can only be given with knowledge of the client's specific facts. By putting these publications on our website we do not intend to create a lawyer-client relationship with the user. Materials may not reflect the most current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. This information should in no way be taken as an indication of future results.

Search Tips:

You may use the wildcard symbol (*) as a root expander.  A search for "anti*" will find not only "anti", but also "anti-trust", "antique", etc.

Entering two terms together in a search field will behave as though an "OR" is being used.  For example, entering "Antique Motorcars" as a Client Name search will find results with either word in the Client Name.


AND and OR may be used in a search.  Note: they must be capitalized, e.g., "Project AND Finance." 

The + and - sign operators may be used.  The + sign indicates that the term immediately following is required, while the - sign indicates to omit results that contain that term. E.g., "+real -estate" says results must have "real" but not "estate".

To perform an exact phrase search, surround your search phrase with quotation marks.  For example, "Project Finance".

Searches are not case sensitive.

back to top