Wage Act Penalties Not Applicable to FLSA Violations
On April 14, 2022, the Supreme Judicial Court held, in Devaney v. Zucchini Gold, LLC, that employees who assert wage claims available only under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) cannot recover the enhanced remedies available under the Massachusetts Wage Act.
The plaintiffs were restaurant workers who routinely worked more than 40 hours a week. They filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, violations of the FLSA for failure to pay overtime wages and violations of the Wage Act for failure to pay overtime wages due under the FLSA in a timely manner. The plaintiffs did not allege violations of the Wage Act for the overtime pay itself because, unlike the FLSA, the Wage Act exempts restaurant workers from overtime—thus, the claim for overtime pay was based solely on the FLSA. The trial court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the jury awarded the employees overtime damages under the FLSA, and then the judge tripled these damages pursuant to the Wage Act. The employer appealed.
The SJC reversed and remanded the case, in part because it determined that the trial court had improperly awarded treble damages under the Wage Act when the plaintiffs asserted only claims under the FLSA. The SJC recognized that the FLSA does not fully preempt Massachusetts wage and hour laws. However, the Court reasoned that, when the remedies of the FLSA only allow for the possibility of doubling damages (when the employer acts in bad faith), there is a conflict with the remedies of the Wage Act, which require triple damages regardless of the employer’s intent. Further, the statute of limitations can differ between the two laws. If the plaintiffs were allowed to proceed under the Wage Act to remedy the FLSA violations, it “would amount to circumvention of the remed[ies] prescribed by Congress.”
The SJC decision provides some clarity on the interaction between the FLSA and the Wage Act. It also removes the possibility of treble damages for employers whose workforce is subject to FLSA overtime provisions but are otherwise exempt from the Wage Act’s overtime provisions.