Monday, July 14, 2014

9th Circuit: LAPD Retaliated Against Officer for FLSA Testimony

In Avila v. LAPD, the Ninth Circuit ruled the Los Angeles Police Department violated the FLSA’s anti-retaliation clause when it fired a “model” officer after testifying against the department in a fellow officer’s FLSA case. The FLSA anti-retaliation provision protects employees from discharge or discrimination based on giving testimony in any FLSA proceeding.

LAPD terminated Avila after he testified in a FLSA lawsuit brought by fellow officer, Edward Maciel, who sought overtime pay for working through his lunch hours. Avila testified he periodically worked through his lunch break and did not claim overtime because it was a common practice in the department. After an investigation, the LAPD Board of Rights recommended termination. Avila had no record of discipline.

The court emphasized the sole issue before the jury was whether LAPD’s reason for firing Officer Avila was pretext, not whether LAPD could fire the officer for failing to report overtime or whether Avila’s testimony could be used in an administrative hearing. Thus, the court determined LAPD could not support any viable argument that Avila would not have been terminated if he had not testified at Maciel’s trial. However, the court stated it would not decide whether the use of an employee’s trial testimony was entirely forbidden in an adverse action where the employer has other evidence of the alleged infraction.

Ultimately, the decision confirms the protection afforded to public employees who enforce the FLSA. Avila was awarded $579,400 in attorney fees and $50,000 in liquidated damages.