Monday, June 23, 2014

Q. Does the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law permit triple damages for overtime? (Update: Yes)

A.  I believe that the answer is yes (and wrote about why I think that is case).  A case pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals will likely provide a final answer.  The case is Muriel Peters v. Early Healthcare Giver, Inc.   The Court in Peters agreed to review the following three questions:

1) Are overtime wages recoverable under the MD Wage Payment and Collection Law (MWPCL)?

2) In a bench trial, is it an abuse of discretion to fail, without explanation, to award treble damages under the MWPCL where there is no claim of bona fide dispute?

3) Should any award of up to treble damages under MWPCL be made in addition to the award of unpaid wages?

The above questions suggest that the trial court awarded overtime wages but did not award the triple damages permitted by the Maryland Wage Payment and Collection Law (but did not explain why).  The Court of Appeals held oral argument on April 29, 2014.  The employer did not participate (probably because it did not have the money to retain a lawyer).  The Court of Appeal had many questions about how it could award triple damages in the absence of a trial court finding that the overtime wages were withheld in bad faith.  To me, that suggests the Court will remand the case back to the trial court to decide that issue and explain the rationale for its decision.
8/19/14 -- Update the Court ruled that triple damages are recoverable for unpaid overtime and remanded the case to the Circuit Court to decide whether to award such damages in this case.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Maryland Law Increasing Minimum Wage Also Provides for Liquidated (or Double) Damages

    The Federal law governing the minimum wage and overtime is the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA").  Maryland has its own minimum wage and overtime law, called the Maryland Wage and Hour Law ("MWHL").  Under the FLSA, a plaintiff claiming unpaid wages can collect the amount owed plus an equivalent amount as liquidated damages.  The plaintiff thus can collect double damages.  Under the MWHL, a plaintiff could only collect the wages owed (single damages).  As a result, most plaintiffs have historically brought their claims under the FLSA. Most FLSA claims end up in Federal Court.

   That is likely to change.  The law eventually raising Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10 also states that Court can shall award liquidated damages for a violation of the MWHL.  An employer can avoid liquidated damages if it can show it acted in good faith and reasonably believed that the wages paid to the employee were not less than the MWHL requires.  The law takes effect July 1, 2014.  As a result, more overtime and minimum wage cases will end up in Maryland State Courts.