IN a recently-concluded federal case an employer’s retaliatory conduct in Georgia, turned an unpaid wage bill of $915 into approximately $40,000 in liability, illustrating precisely what an employer should not do in the face of the anti-retaliation protections for employees in our employment laws.
After Andreas Flaten resigned from his job at 811 Autoworks LLC, he wanted to be paid his final paycheck, in the amount of $915. When his former employer failed to pay, Andreas contacted the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Wage and Hour Division to complain. After DOL investigators contacted the former employer about the unpaid wages, he reluctantly—and spitefully—paid Andreas his final wages of $915, by dumping 91,500 oil-covered pennies onto the driveway of Andreas’s home. The mound of pennies, weighing approximately 500 pounds, was accompanied by a final pay stub referring to Andreas with an expletive. The employer also posted defamatory statements about Andreas on the company website.
A subsequent investigation by the DOL concluded that 811 Autoworks, LLC and its owner unlawfully retaliated against Andreas for contacting the DOL about his unpaid final paycheck. That investigation also uncovered further evidence of overtime violations by 811 Autoworks, LLC.
On June 16, 2023, Judge Timothy C. Batten of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued a consent judgment and permanent injunction prohibiting the employer and its owner from retaliating against any former or current employee for exercising their rights under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The consent judgment also requires 811 Autoworks, LLC to pay an additional $39,934 in back wages and liquidated damages.
In a press release, the DOL noted that “[t]he court has sent a clear message to employers…who subject employees to unfair wage practices and outright intimidation and retaliation.” The DOL statement emphasized that all “[w]orkers are entitled to obtain the wages they earned without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
In California, both federal and state laws protect employees who complain about violations of wage-and-hour laws. Under Section 15(a)(3) of the FLSA (i.e., the same federal law applied in Andrea’s case), employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for filing any complaint or instituting or causing to be instituted any proceeding under or related to employment rights guaranteed by the FLSA.
Similarly, under California Labor Code Section 1102.5(b), it is unlawful for “an employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer” to “retaliate against an employee for disclosing information…to a person with authority over the employee or another employee who has the authority to investigate,” about “violation[s] of [a] state or federal statute.”
If you prevail on a claim for whistleblower retaliation under California law, you may be awarded monetary compensation for lost wages and benefits, as well as for any emotional distress you suffered as a result of the unlawful retaliation. If your employer is a corporation or limited liability company, they would also be liable for a civil penalty of up to $10,000. In addition, the court is authorized to award attorneys’ fees and litigation costs you may have incurred in successfully bringing a whistleblower retaliation claim.
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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
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The Law Offices of C. Joe Sayas, Jr. welcomes inquiries about this topic. All inquiries are confidential and at no cost. You can contact the office at (818) 291-0088 or visit www.joesayaslaw.com. [For more than 25 years, C. Joe Sayas, Jr., Esq. successfully recovered wages and other monetary damages for thousands of employees and consumers. He was named Top Labor & Employment Attorney in California by the Daily Journal, selected as Super Lawyer by the Los Angeles Magazine for 11 years, and is a past Presidential Awardee for Outstanding Filipino Overseas.]