Plaintiff Sufficiently Alleged Retaliation For Opposing Employer’s Deprivation of Wages

A recent case, Antolino v. Distribution Management Consolidators Worldwide, illustrates the breadth of the New York Labor Law when it comes to protecting employees who are subjected to retaliation for alleging the failure to pay wages.  

There, the court denied defendant’s motion to dismiss under CPLR 3211(a)(7), and held that the plaintiff (defendant’s senior vice president) adequately stated a claim for retaliation under New York Labor Law § 215.


Plaintiff claimed that defendant breached an employment agreement by not paying him guaranteed bonuses and sales commissions, and by firing him (without cause and without a severance) for seeking payment of the unpaid wages. He alleged that one of defendant’s owners “threatened him with termination if he did not sign a proposed contract, which would have required him to release and waive his claim to any outstanding unpaid wages” and that when he “objected to defendant’s refusal to pay the outstanding wages, his employment was terminated.”

Pleading a Labor Law § 215 Violation

Labor Law § 215 (which offers broader coverage than its federal counterpart, the Fair Labor Standards Act) “prohibits an employer from discharging, penalizing or in any other manner retaliating against an employee because such employee has made a complaint to his or her employer … that the employer has violated any provision of … the Labor Law.”

The court recited the standard for alleging a violation of this statute:

To state a retaliation claim under Labor Law § 215, a plaintiff must adequately plead that while employed by the defendant, he or she made a complaint about the employer’s violation of New York Labor Law and was terminated or otherwise penalized, discriminated against, or subjected to an adverse employment action as a result. … [A] plaintiff must allege that he or she complained about a specific violation of the Labor Law to support a claim of retaliatory discharge pursuant to Labor Law § 215.

Plaintiff was not required, contrary to defendant’s argument, to cite a specific section of the Labor Law in his complaint to his employer; rather, “all that is required is that the complaint to the employer be of a colorable violation of the statute.”

Here, plaintiff met his pleading burden:

[P]laintiff alleges that he had a contractual right to the payments he seeks, that his employer withheld those wages, that he complained about wages being withheld, and that after he complained, he was fired. The Amended Complaint asserts that defendant violated Labor Law § 190 et seq., and, as previously found by this Court, plaintiff has adequately alleged a violation of Labor Law § 193, which prohibits an employer from making certain deductions from an employee’s “wages”. … Thus, plaintiff’s allegations satisfy the pleading requirement that he complain about a specific Labor Law violation.

Labor Law § 215 Protects Against Post-Termination Retaliation

The court also clarified (by reference to various examples from the case law) that Labor Law § 215 protects against post-termination retaliation:

Defendant also contends that the retaliation claim should be dismissed because plaintiff has alleged retaliatory actions occurring after his employment was terminated, and Labor Law § 215 does not apply to post-termination conduct. … [T]o state a retaliation claim under Labor Law § 215, a plaintiff must plead that “while employed by the defendant, he or she made a complaint about the employer’s violation of New York Labor Law and was terminated or otherwise … subjected to an adverse employment action as a result. … Defendant argues that this means that only adverse actions which occurred while plaintiff was employed give rise to a Labor Law § 215 claim. … It is undisputed, however, that section 215 applies to current and former employees. … Courts accordingly have found that post-termination conduct can, in some circumstances, be considered an adverse action for purposes of a retaliation claim. … Post-termination actions that implicate some legal, financial, or significant reputational harm for the plaintiff … and could negatively affect his prospective employment or business opportunities may be a basis for a retaliation claim.

Plaintiff likewise satisfied his pleading burden:

[P]laintiff’s allegations that defendant sought to damage his ability to earn a living, by speaking ill of him and telling business associates and former co-workers not to associate with him, are sufficient to satisfy pleading requirements for purposes of withstanding the instant motion to dismiss. In any event, plaintiff also alleges that his employment was terminated, which undisputedly can constitute actionable retaliatory conduct under the statute.

The court therefore denied defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s retaliation cause of action.

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