Monday, November 5, 2018

Quiles v. Parent

In this latest chapter in what originated as a wage and hour class action, defendant Arthur J. Parent, Jr. (Parent) appeals from the amended judgment entered in favor of plaintiff Amanda Quiles on her individual claim for wrongful employment termination in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA; 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.).  (All further statutory references are to title 29 of the United States Code unless otherwise specified.)  In addition to the damages awarded by the jury, the amended judgment awarded Quiles $689,310.04 in attorney fees and $50,591.69 in costs of litigation. 

Parent challenges the attorney fees and costs awards of the amended judgment only, arguing the trial court erred by awarding costs that were not statutorily authorized and by awarding attorney fees and costs that were jointly incurred by Quiles with her coplaintiffs for whom litigation remains pending.  He also argues the trial court otherwise abused its discretion by awarding attorney fees and costs that were unrelated and unnecessary to Quiles’s successful FLSA claim. 

We affirm.  We hold, in this case of first impression, that federal law applies to the determination of what type of costs are recoverable by a prevailing party in an FLSA action filed in state court.  Section 216(b) provides that any employer who wrongfully terminates the employment of an employee in retaliation for filing an FLSA action shall be liable for legal or equitable relief and shall pay the employee’s reasonable attorney fees and costs of the action.  Federal courts have construed section 216(b) to authorize awarding a prevailing employee a broad measure of costs, which include copying, postage, and mediation expenses. 

We reject Parent’s argument that the trial court erred by awarding Quiles mediation costs because the parties had contractually agreed to mediate the matter and divide the costs between them.  The record shows that the parties agreed to each pay the mediation services provider half the costs of mediation, but Parent did not go through with any agreement to mediate, having failed to personally appear at the mediation or otherwise be available to participate in the mediation.  Parent forfeited his argument that the trial court awarded expert witness fees that were unauthorized by the FLSA.  He failed to raise that argument in the trial court which resulted in the issue not having been fully briefed and in depriving the trial court the opportunity to make that determination in the first instance.

We also reject Parent’s claim that the trial court erred by awarding Quiles costs she jointly incurred with other plaintiffs who continue to litigate their claims.  The trial court painstakingly reviewed the lengthy record regarding Quiles’s requests for attorney fees and costs and awarded her what the court determined she reasonably incurred on her own behalf and in relation to her successful claim.  Contrary to Parent’s argument, the trial court did not err by awarding Quiles attorney fees and costs she incurred in connection with the trial as to the joint employer issue.  Having proven Parent’s status as her joint employer enabled Quiles to avail herself of the opportunity to pursue damages, penalties, attorney fees and costs against Parent for violating the FLSA by wrongfully terminating Quiles’s employment.

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