The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that plaintiffs bringing claims for unpaid wages under both the New York Labor Law (“NYLL”) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) may not recover liquidated damages under both statutes for the same violations. See Chowdhury v. Hamza Express Food Corp., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 21870 (2d Cir. Dec. 7, 2016).
In Chowdhury, the plaintiff brought an action for failure to pay overtime wages pursuant to the FLSA and NYLL. He was ultimately successful and subsequently awarded approximately $20,000 in unpaid overtime wages. Under both the FLSA and the NYLL, successful plaintiffs can recover not only the wages that are owed to them, but are also entitled to liquidated damages in an amount equal to the wages owed to them. Specifically, the FLSA entitles successful plaintiffs to liquidated damages in an amount equal to 100% of unpaid wages, unless the employer demonstrates “that the act or omission giving rise to such action was in good faith” and that the employer “had reasonable grounds for believing that [such] act or omission was not a violation of the [FLSA].” 29 U.S.C. § 260. Similarly, the NYLL entitles successful plaintiffs to liquidated damages in an amount equal to 100% of unpaid wages, “unless the employer proves a good faith basis to believe that its underpayment of wages was in compliance with the law.” N.Y. Lab. Law § 198.
In Chowdhury, the plaintiff sought liquidated damages under both statutes (100% under the FLSA and 100% under the NYLL). When deciding whether to award liquidated damages under both statutes, the Second Circuit looked to the legislative history of liquidated damages under the NYLL and noted that such history “suggest[s] an intent in aligning [the NYLL’s] liquidated damages provision with the FLSA.” The court, therefore held that because “the NYLL and FLSA liquidated damages provisions are identical in all material respects, serve the same functions, and redress the same injuries,” plaintiffs may not recover liquidated damages under both the FLSA and the NYLL.
If you believe that your employer is violating the FLSA or the NY Labor Law by not properly compensating you, it’s important to speak with a New York City wage and hour attorney to properly assess and determine all of your legal rights.