Friday, September 18, 2015

Ohio Appeals Court Orders Double Damages and Attorneys Fees for Successful Minimum Wage Claim

Yesterday, the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals reversed the denial of liquidated double damages and attorneys’ fees to two successful plaintiffs who sued for denial of both minimum wage and overtime compensation under Ohio law.  Porter v. AJ Automotive Group, Inc., 2015-Ohio-3769.   The Court found that the employer bore the burden of proving that it was exempt from Ohio’s wage laws and it had not argued that it was exempt.  Therefore, the plaintiffs were entitled to liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees under their minimum wage claim under Ohio Revised Code § 4113.14 and Ohio Constitution Article 34a and to their unpaid overtime compensation under §4113.03.

The plaintiffs worked as car washers for the defendant employer.  They sued for unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation under state and federal law.  The employer argued that they were tipped employees and that it was not subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act because it did not meet the sales volume or enterprise test.   The trial court concluded that the defendant was not an “employer” under federal or state wage laws, but used its equitable power to award the plaintiffs unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation.  However, it denied them liquidated damages and attorneys’ fees. They appealed.

On appeal, there was no dispute about the amount of wage liability or applicability of the FLSA.   The trial court had concluded that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the defendant was a statutory employer under §4113.02(D), which is the overtime compensation statute and includes everyone as an employer, except businesses with gross annual sales of less than $150,000.   However, the Court agreed with the Franklin County Court of Appeals that the employer – not the plaintiff – bears the burden of proving its exemption from the statute by proving its sales meet the annual threshold.   Moreover, the defendant had never raised or argued any defense that it was not an employer under Ohio law.   Finally, the minimum wage statute at §4113.14 incorporates by reference the FLSA definition of employer, which is “’any person acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee * * *.’ 29 U.S.C. 203(d).”


Accordingly, the Court found that the plaintiffs were entitled to the full remedies of ORC §4114.14 and §34a, which includes liquidated damages of twice the amount of unpaid minimum wages and attorneys’ fees.  (Ohio’s overtime compensation does not provide for liquidated damages).  


NOTICE: This summary is designed merely to inform and alert you of recent legal developments. It does not constitute legal advice and does not apply to any particular situation because different facts could lead to different results. Information here can be changed or amended without notice. Readers should not act upon this information without legal advice. If you have any questions about anything you have read, you should consult with or retain an employment attorney.