State Officials May Be Personally Liable Under The FLSA

Under a Supreme Court decision known as Alden v. State of Maine, the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution shields state governments from lawsuits filed by employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). A recent Mississippi case tested a slightly different proposition – do the protections of the FLSA apply when employees sue state government officials as opposed to the governmental bodies themselves?

The case involved a lawsuit by two troopers for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety. Among other claims, the troopers alleged that they had wrongfully been denied overtime under the FLSA. The Department filed a motion to dismiss the FLSA claims, alleging that the troopers’ lawsuit – which named the Commissioner of the Department as a defendant – was really an attempt to evade the Eleventh Amendment.

The Court found that “the Eleventh Amendment does not bar damage suits against state officials in their individual capacities. The Department urges the Court to make an exception in this case, submitting that these claims for overtime wages, despite being styled ‘individual capacity claims,’ are fundamentally claims against the State.

“The Eleventh Amendment does not come into play in personal capacity suits, and the existence of an indemnification statute promising to pay judgments when an officer is sued in his individual capacity does not extend the Eleventh Amendment’s protections around the officer. In addition, unlike Title VII, the FLSA specifically provides that individuals can be considered employers and subject to personal liability.

“Granting immunity would constitute a departure from the general rule. And while the Fifth Circuit may be free to modify its position, this Court believes that the motion to dismiss should be denied under the current state of the law in this circuit. The troopers’ individual-capacity claims for monetary damages under the FLSA may proceed.”

Henley v. Simpson, 2012 WL 3017812 (S.D. Miss. 2012).