[COLUMN] Retaliation for employee complaints of wrongdoing can be costly for employers

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.] 

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