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Davila v. Menendez, No. 12-11049 (11th Cir. June 10, 2013)

Here's a nice David-v.-Goliath case, where a nanny goes after her former employers for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(a) and Florida, Fla. Const. Art. 10, § 24(e). Not only did the nanny prevail at trial (with a $33,025 jury verdict), but on appeal she wins the right to pursue double ("liquidated") damages, and an addition al year of lost wages, in a second trial.

Davila v. Menendez, No. 12-11049 (11th Cir. June 10, 2013): The plaintiff - a resident alien - provided child-care services for the defendant couple from 2004 to 2010, with an eight-month gap in 2008 while she lived outside the country.

In her suit:

"Davilalleged that she had 'worked an average of 100 hours a week between . . . July 28, 2004 through . . . February 14, 2008,' and been 'paid $3.50 per hour for all hours of work.' Davilalso alleged that she had 'worked an average of 75 hours a week between . . . October 10, 2008 through . . . March 26, 2010,' and been 'paid $4.00 per hour for all hours of work.' And Davilalleged that the Menendezes had 'willfully and intentionally refused to pay . . . or post[] any notice . . . of her rights to minimum wages.'"

At trial, the jury heard sharply divided evidence about the employee's hours and duties. The parties clashed, for instance, over whether Davila's duties included "clean[ing] the Menendezes' apartment, prepar[ing] meals, and run[ning] errands for Claudia Menendez and, at night, . . . [sleeping] in the child's bedroom."

Weighing the evidence, the jury found in favor of Daviland awarded her $33,025. Yet the judge denied Daviladdition al relief on the ground that the couple - while it violated state and federal wage law - did not "willfully" skirt the law. A finding of "willfulness" not only extends the limitations period by a year (allowing an extra year of damages), but entitles the employee to double (known as "liquidated") damages under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) ("[a]ny employer who violates the provisions of [the Fair Labor Standards Act] shall be liable to the employee . . . affected in the amount of their unpaid minimum wages . . . in an addition al equal amount as liquidated damages").

The district court instead granted judgment as a matter of law on the issue of willfulness, thus taking the issue away from the jury. Because the court found that there was no proof of willfulness, it also denied liquidated damages.

The Eleventh Circuit reverses. It holds that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of willfulness:

"The district court erred when it entered a judgment as a matter of law that the Menendezes did not willfully violate the minimum wage laws. Davila introduced evidence from which a reasonable jury could have found that the Menendezes willfully violated the minimum wage laws. [Citation omitted.] Davila elicited from the Menendezes that they knew of the hourly wage laws, but failed to investigate whether they had complied with those laws. Davila testified that the Menendezes did not sign a contract with Davila, did not record her working hours, and paid her in cash. And Davila further testified that Rudolfo made threatening comments about her alien status and his work for the government. Despite the Menendezes' assertions that they were ignorant of their obligations under the minimum wage laws, a reasonable jury could have drawn a contrary inference from the evidence, and the district court erred when it refused to submit the issue of willfulness to the jury. Davila is entitled to a new trial before a jury to determine whether the Menendezes willfully violated the minimum wage laws."

And because the jury never had an opportunity to rule on willfulness, the district court's ruling on liquidated damages was also in error.

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