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D.Kan.: Punitive Damages Unavailable In Equal Pay Act (EPA) Retaliation Claim

Allen v. Garden City Co-op, Inc.

Plaintiff moved to compel the individual Defendant’s financial information, claiming that it was relevant to her claim for punitive damages arising under her Equal Pay Act (EPA) claim. In denying the Motion to compel, the Court addressed the issue of damages available to a Plaintiff in a retaliation claim under the EPA, FLSA and/or ADEA:

“In its most simple terms, the Equal Pay Act makes it illegal for an employer to pay members of the opposite sex different wages for the same work. The Act is codified at 29 U.S.C. § 206(d), making it part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq.

At least one court in this District has discussed the issue of punitive damages under the FLSA, noting with favor that other Circuits have “held that the FLSA’s enforcement provisions … do not permit a plaintiff to recover mental distress or punitive damages of this type.” Goico v. Boeing Co., 347 F.Supp.2d 986, 995 (citing Goldstein v. Manhattan Industries, Inc., 758 F.2d 1435, 1446 (11th Cir.1985)).

In Goico, the issue before the Court was whether punitive damages are allowable for claims of discrimination and retaliation under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). The Court observed that “[t]he enforcement provisions of the ADEA, which were patterned after the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), state in part that the ADEA shall be enforced in accordance with the provisions of the FLSA …” 347 F.Supp.2d at 994. The Court continued by noting that the ADEA’s enforcement provisions state that “any violation of the ADEA shall be deemed a violation of the FLSA …”Id.Although Goico is an ADEA case, it specifically discusses whether punitive damages are allowable under the FLSA because of the ADEA’s reliance on that Act’s enforcement provisions. Thus, the Goico court’s discussion of punitive damages under the ADEA is clearly applicable to the present analysis of punitive damages under the Equal Pay Act/FLSA.

The Goico court also discussed the Seventh Circuit’s exception to this rule, which allows punitive damages in retaliation claims brought under the FLSA. Id., at 996 (discussing Travis v. Gary Comm. Mental Health Center, 921 F.2d 108 (7th Cir.1990)).  The Travis opinion discusses the effect of the 1977 amendment to the FLSA, “which added language essentially identical to the ‘appropriate legal relief’ provision of the ADEA …” Goico, 347 F.Supp.2d at 996 (citing Travis, 921 F.2d at 111-12. According to the Seventh Circuit, “[a]ppropriate legal relief includes damages,” and the 1977 Amendment to the FLSA “does away with the old limitations” under which damages are allowable “without establishing new ones.” Travis, 921 F.2d at 112. Therefore, according to Travis, punitive damages “are appropriate” under the FLSA “for intentional torts such as retaliatory discharge.”Id.

As stated previously, Plaintiff seeks punitive damages through her Equal Pay Act retaliation claim.

In Goico, Senior District Judge Wesley Brown analyzed the Travis exception and unequivocally stated that there is no support for “the view that Congress intended to single out retaliation claims under the FLSA (or ADEA) for potentially far greater recovery than it allowed with respect to virtually all other types of employment discrimination claims.” 347 D.Kan. at 997. Goico continued, holding that “that the Travis exception for retaliation claims is not well-founded, and is not a persuasive basis for abandoning the long-standing rule that damages for mental distress and punitive damages are not available on claims under the ADEA.”Id.

Because the recovery available under the ADEA is analogous to that allowed under the FLSA, the Court believes that this language from Goico is applicable to the Equal Pay Act issue currently pending before the Court.  The Court thus finds that Plaintiff has failed to establish that her punitive damage claim under Count I is not spurious. Therefore the court cannot allow discovery to proceed relating to Defendant McClelland’s financial worth at this time.  However, in the event the assigned trial judge in this case rules that Plaintiff is entitled to seek punitive damages on her FLSA retaliation claim, Plaintiff may renew her motion to compel.”