April 18, 2022

State Law Remedies Not Available for Violations of FLSA, Massachusetts High Court Holds

You've Reached Your
Free Article Limit This Month
Subscribe now to get unlimited access to all OnPractice content. Your subscription is free.
Subscribe Now

In so ruling, the high court rejected the conclusion of several lower court decisions that had allowed such state law remedies for violations of the FLSA.

Differences Between Massachusetts and Federal Wage Law

Although the MWA mirrors the FLSA in many respects, they are not identical. Under the FLSA, either a two- or three-year statute of limitations applies, depending on whether the claimant can demonstrate that the employer acted "willfully." In addition, a prevailing plaintiff is entitled to costs, attorney's fees, and potential liquidated damages equal to the amount of lost wages (i.e., double damages). However, under Massachusetts state law, all claims are subject to a three-year limitations period and, in addition to attorney's fees and costs, violations are subject to mandatory triple damages.

Another difference is the types of exemptions from the respective laws' overtime requirements. For example, all employees who work in a restaurant, hotel, hospital, or gasoline station are exempt from the overtime requirements of Massachusetts law, whereas these exemptions do not exist under the FLSA.

The Lawsuit

Plaintiff Rutchada Devaney was an employee at the Rice Barn, a Needham, Massachusetts restaurant owned by the defendant corporation. She and several other employees filed suit against the company, alleging violations of the FLSA for failure to pay overtime wages; violations of the MWA for failure to pay the overtime wages in a timely manner; and violations of both the MWA and FLSA for failure to properly pay minimum wages.

The evidence demonstrated that these plaintiffs routinely worked well in excess of 40 hours per week, but were paid a day rate, which was reduced when the plaintiffs were absent for part of a day and only half of which was paid on weekends, when the restaurant was open just for dinner.

Following pretrial discovery, the superior (trial) court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their FLSA overtime and MWA claims. Based on the judge's instructions in a separate trial on damages, a jury awarded each of the plaintiffs actual overtime damages at one-and-a-half times their "regular rate" for all overtime hours worked. The judge then trebled the plaintiffs' actual damages and awarded them attorney's fees and costs. The defendant appealed.

High Court Decision

On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed and remanded the case, concluding that the trial court had both improperly instructed the jury on the calculation of actual damages and in awarding treble damages under the MWA for overtime claims that were viable only under the FLSA.

As to the plaintiffs' actual damages calculation, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that, because the plaintiffs were paid a day rate, the proper calculation of their overtime wages is set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 778.112, which provides the calculation methodology for employees who are paid "a flat sum for a day's work … without regard to the number of hours worked in the day … and [who] receive[ ] no other form of compensation for services." Under these circumstances, the employee's "regular rate is determined by totaling all the sums received at such day rates … in the workweek and dividing by the total hours actually worked" and the employee "is then entitled to extra half-time pay at this rate for all hours worked in excess of [forty] in the workweek."

This is so because the employee's day rate was intended to compensate them for all hours worked. In effect, they already have been paid their regular rate for the non-overtime hours they worked each week. Thus, they were entitled only to the additional one-half the regular rate for their unpaid overtime hours.

More significantly, the Supreme Judicial Court further held that the trial court improperly had awarded treble damages under the MWA when the plaintiffs had asserted their overtime claims only under the FLSA. As noted above, the plaintiffs worked at a restaurant and, thus, were exempt from the overtime provisions of the MWA. Therefore, their unpaid overtime claims were viable only under the FLSA.

While recognizing that the FLSA does not fully preempt state wage and hour laws, and, in fact, the Act expressly states that it does not do so, the high court concluded that "allowing an employee aggrieved by a violation of the Federal overtime law to elect State wage act remedies for untimely payments of wages due solely under the FLSA would present an ‘obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives' of the FLSA" (quoting Sawash v. Suburban Welders Supply Co., 407 Mass. 311, 314 (1990)). Thus,

while Federal "courts are all over the map on whether plaintiffs may bring [S]tate law claims in addition to FLSA claims for the same conduct, … [t]he common thread is this: When the FLSA provides a remedial measure, it conflicts with similar [S]tate law causes of action and thus preempts them; when the FLSA does not provide a remedial measure, there is no preemption.

In this case, the FLSA unquestionably provides a comprehensive scheme of remedies for overtime pay violations that conflicts in significant ways with the MWA's remedy provisions. In addition to the difference in the amount of liquidated damages available, the FLSA provides a defense to those damages where the employer can demonstrate a reasonable, good-faith basis for its actions, whereas the MWA imposes strict liability for established violations. Moreover, the FLSA's standard statute of limitations is two years, with a third year available only if the plaintiff can demonstrate "willful" conduct on the part of the defendant, while the MWA's limitations period is three years for all claims. Therefore, concluded the Supreme Judicial Court, the only way to avoid conflict between the two laws is to allow only those remedies available under the FLSA when claims are asserted solely under that federal law.


The Supreme Judicial Court's ruling should be welcome news for employers, who no longer must face claims for the greater damages available under state law when the sole basis for liability is the FLSA.

©2022 Jackson Lewis P.C. This material is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice nor does it create a client-lawyer relationship between Jackson Lewis and any recipient. Recipients should consult with counsel before taking any actions based on the information contained within this material. This material may be considered attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Focused on labor and employment law since 1958, Jackson Lewis P.C.'s 950+ attorneys located in major cities nationwide consistently identify and respond to new ways workplace law intersects business. We help employers develop proactive strategies, strong policies and business-oriented solutions to cultivate high-functioning workforces that are engaged, stable and diverse, and share our clients' goals to emphasize inclusivity and respect for the contribution of every employee. For more information, visit

ALM expressly disclaims any express or implied warranty regarding the OnPractice Content, including any implied warranty that the OnPractice Content is accurate, has been corrected or is otherwise free from errors.

More From Jackson Lewis P.C.

South Carolina Anti-Vaccine Mandate Law: Implications for Private Employers

By T. Chase Samples Jackson Lewis P.C. May 16 , 2022

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has signed into law House Bill 3126, which has implications for public and private employers that continue to require employees in South Carolina to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Transferring Talent from Facilities Abroad as Option for Skilled Workers for Manufacturing Companies

By Nicola Ai Ling Prall Jackson Lewis P.C. May 13 , 2022

Using treaty of commerce and navigation visas as a possible option for manufacturing companies searching for talent is a great way for manufacturing companies to explore. Companies with affiliates abroad have another option: the L-1 visa.

Chicago Adopts New Sexual Harassment Prevention Obligations for Employers

By Nadine C. Abrahams Jackson Lewis P.C. May 13 , 2022

The Chicago City Council has created new employer obligations to provide training to employees and supervisors on sexual harassment prevention and how bystanders should respond to sexual harassment.

More From Federal Government

Fifth Circuit Decision Could Undermine Constitutionality of HHS Civil Money Penalty Laws

By Robert P. Charrow Greenberg Traurig May 20 , 2022

On May 18, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Jarkesy v. Securities and Exchange Comm’n, in which it examined the constitutionality of an agency civil money penalty enforcement proceeding.

UPDATE: FEC Candidate Loan Repayment Limitation Ruled Unconstitutional in Supreme Court Decision

By Katherine N. Reynolds Dickinson Wright PLLC May 18 , 2022

On May 16, 2022, the United States Supreme Court ruled that limiting the repayment of candidate loans to their own campaign to $250,000 (codified under 52 U.S.C. § 30116(j)) is unconstitutional. The Plaintiffs, Ted Cruz for Senate and Senator Ted Cruz, filed suit against the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”), stating that the repayment limitation unconstitutionally infringes the First Amendment rights of the Senator, the Campaign, and any individuals who might seek to make post-election contributions.

Are the Section 301 Duties on China Going Away? Recent Statements by the Biden Administration

By Daniel B. Pickard Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney May 03 , 2022

Recent statements by Biden administration officials have raised the question of whether the Trump-era tariffs imposed on goods imported from China will be terminated or allowed to expire.

Featured Stories