Leonard Avila was a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”). In January 2008, he was subpoenaed to testify in a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) lawsuit brought by a follow officer who claimed he was required to work through his lunch hour but was not compensated for this time. The FLSA mandates that employees be compensated for meal periods unless the meal period is uninterrupted. After giving his testimony, Mr. Avila was fired for “insubordination” related to improperly reporting his hours worked.
At the trial of his case, Mr. Avila was able to establish “that the only officers disciplined for not claiming overtime were those who testified against the LAPD in the [original] suit, notwithstanding uncontested evidence that the practice was widespread in the LAPD.” A jury found in Mr. Avila’s favor and awarded him $50,000.00. Mr. Avila was subsequently awarded an equal amount in liquidated damages ($50,000.00) and $579,400.00 in attorney’s fees.
On appeal, the LAPD challenged the trial court’s decision not to give two instructions to the jury regarding the LAPD’s right to terminate employees for violating workplace rules. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the refusal to give those instructions because “as this case was tried, the issue for jury resolution was not whether the LAPD could fire [Mr.] Avila for not claiming overtime or whether his trial testimony could be used in the administrative hearing. Rather, the only issue was whether the reason given by the LAPD for the termination was a pretext.” “Put differently, the only issue for the jury in this case was whether the [LAPD] was telling the truth in claiming that it fired a model employee (who was hired by another police force even as the termination action was pending), for not seeking all the pay that he might have.”
The Ninth Circuit also upheld the decision to award liquidated damages to Mr. Avila as well as the amount of the award of attorney’s fees granted by the trial court.