E.D.Pa.: Where Plaintiff Received Partial Liquidated Damages, Prejudgment Interest Due On The Remaining Unpaid Wages

Gonzalez v. Bustleton Services, Inc.

This case was before the Court on Plaintiffs’ Motion for an Award of Prejudgment Interest, subsequent to the Court’s holding that Defendant had violated the FLSA.  In its Order regarding liability, the Court awarded liquidated damages as to one aspect of Plaintiffs’ claim and denied liquidated damages as to a second component.  The Plaintiffs’ Motion sought prejudgment interest solely on the unpaid wages that the Court had not awarded liquidated damages upon.  The Court held that Plaintiffs were entitled to prejudgment interest on the unpaid wages for which they were not awarded liquidated damages.

After discussing the general presumption in favor of prejudgment interest, the Court addressed each of the Defendant’s arguments in turn:

“In response to Plaintiffs’ motion for prejudgment interest, Defendant first argues that Plaintiffs are not entitled to prejudgment interest because they have already received liquidated damages. It is well-settled in FLSA jurisprudence that a plaintiff cannot recover both liquidated damages and prejudgment interest because both serve the same purpose, namely to compensate employees for losses caused by delayed receipt of wages they are due. See Brooklyn Sav. Bank v. O’Neil, 324 U.S. 697, 715, 65 S.Ct. 895, 89 L.Ed. 1296 (1945) (recovery of liquidated damages and prejudgment interest is “double compensation for damages arising from delay in the payment of the basic minimum wages”); see also Martin v. Cooper Elec. Supply Co., 940 F.2d 896, 910 (3d Cir.1991) (describing similar purpose of liquidated damages and prejudgment interest); Starceski v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 54 F.3d 1089, 1102 (3d Cir.1995) (contrasting punitive nature of liquidated damages in ADEA case with non-punitive liquidated damages in FLSA case). Thus, there is no dispute that the court cannot award prejudgment interest on wages for which liquidated damages have been awarded.

Defendant takes the argument a step further and asserts that any award of liquidated damages prohibits any award of prejudgment interest, I disagree. The cases upon which Defendant relies merely stand for the proposition that the court cannot award both liquidated damages and prejudgment interest on the same unpaid wages. See Bowers v. Foto-Wear, Inc., No. 03-1137, 2007 WL 4086339, at *6 (M.D.Pa. Nov.15, 2007) (declining to award prejudgment interest where court awarded liquidated damages on all unpaid wages); Friedrich, 1995 WL 412385, at *4 (awarding prejudgment interest when liquidated damages were denied); Signora v. Liberty Travel, Inc., 886 A.2d 284, 286-87 (Pa.Super.2005) (finding award of liquidated damages would be duplicative where prejudgment interest was granted on same award of unpaid wages).

As previously discussed, the purpose of prejudgment interest is to compensate the plaintiff for losses resulting from the delayed payment of wages. See Brooklyn, 324 U.S. at 715; Martin, 940 F.2d at 910. Here, Plaintiffs received an award of liquidated damages under the FLSA for two years of unpaid wages owed for the credited overtime for which they had not been properly compensated. They have not received any compensation for the delayed payment of the third year of credited overtime or any of the uncompensated morning and evening time. The equities favor an award of prejudgment interest for these unpaid wages. See Brock v. Richardson, 812 F.2d 121, 127 (3d Cir.1987) (explaining the “usual equities favor” award of prejudgment interest in FLSA case).

Defendant also argues that the court’s denial of liquidated damages for the uncompensated morning and evening time under the FLSA precludes an award of prejudgment interest. See Def.’s Memo. at 4. This is incorrect. Although liquidated damages and prejudgment interest both seek to compensate the plaintiff for the delay in receiving his wages in the FLSA context, the denial of liquidated damages does not dictate the denial of prejudgment interest. In fact, in some of the cases cited by Defendant, the court awarded prejudgment interest while denying liquidated damages. See, e.g., Frie drich. In order to avoid liquidated damages, the burden is on the defendant to show that it was acting in good faith and “had reasonable grounds for believing that his act or omission was not a violation of the [FLSA].” 29 U.S.C. § 260. With respect to prejudgment interest, the Third Circuit has said that prejudgment interest is presumed unless the “usual equities in favor of such interest are not applicable.” Pignataro, 593 F.3d at 273 (citing Brock, 812 F.2d at 126). Here, although I find that Defendant had a reasonable basis for failing to compensate Plaintiffs for the morning and evening time, this does not change the fact that Plaintiffs were denied wages they were owed. The purpose of prejudgment interest is served by such an award in this case.

Defendant also seems to argue that because the court did not award liquidated damages on the additional year of credited overtime damages provided by PMWA, Plaintiffs’ are not entitled to now seek prejudgment interest on these additional unpaid wages because it gives Plaintiffs “a second bite at the apple.” See Def.’s Memo. at 9. The main problem with Defendant’s argument is that PMWA does not provide for liquidated damages and caselaw has not extended this remedy to PMWA cases. See 43 P.S. § 333.113 (damages available as civil remedy do not include liquidated damages). Accordingly, Plaintiffs properly did not seek liquidated damages under PMWA, see Pls.’ Proposed Findings and Conclusions at ¶ 96 n. 14, and the court did not award them. There is no bar to Plaintiffs’ request for prejudgment interest.

Next, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s failure to request prejudgment interest prior to the filing of the current motion precludes such recovery. See Def.’s Memo. at 8. I disagree. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs seek “[c]ompensatory and back pay damages to the fullest extent permitted under federal and state law.” Compl. at Prayer for Relief. At the final pretrial conference, counsel agreed that submissions concerning the calculation of damages would follow the court’s findings and conclusions. In their Proposed Findings and Conclusions, Plaintiffs specifically reference prejudgment interest as an alternative to liquidated damages. See Pls.’ Proposed Findings and Conclusions at ¶ 99 n. 15. I also note that Defendant has suffered no prejudice based on the Plaintiffs’ request for prejudgment interest at this time.

In addition, Defendant argues that the court should decline to award prejudgment interest on the uncompensated morning and evening time because this is not an easily calculable fixed sum, particularly because “it was the Plaintiffs’ lack of credibility which led to the uncertainty.” Def.’s Memo. at 10. Defendant relies on Pennsylvania easel aw which states that interest is due “[w]henever a fixed sum of money is wrongfully withheld from a party to whom it is properly due.” Id. at 9 (quoting Friedrich, 1995 WL 412385, at *3). Here, Defendant argues that the calculation of prejudgment interest is made uncertain by Plaintiffs’ lack of credibility, itself. Thus, the award of prejudgment interest would be inequitable.

At trial, Plaintiffs testified that they arrived at the shop before work and performed work prior to leaving for the jobsite every workday. Defendant presented credible evidence that Plaintiffs left from the shop only 35% of the time and went directly to the jobsite from their homes 65% of the time. In fact, Defendant presented evidence identifying specific jobs for which Plaintiffs traveled directly to the jobsite. Therefore, I found that Plaintiffs were entitled to 35% of the total uncompensated morning and evening time. Although I agree that Plaintiffs are partially to blame for any uncertainty in the calculation of prejudgment interest, Defendant lost the Plaintiffs’ timesheets, see N.T. 10/13/09 at 87-88, and thereby contributed to the uncertainty.

Moreover, considering the purpose of prejudgment interest, I believe the equities favor such an award for the uncompensated morning and evening time. Plaintiffs were not paid the wages they were owed and have not had the use of that money. Thus, an award of prejudgment interest is appropriate.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Liquidated Damages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s