Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’neil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945)

Contents:
Author: Justice Stone

Show Summary

Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’neil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945)

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE, dissenting in No. 445 and concurring in No. 554.

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS, MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER and I think the judgment should be reversed in Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’Neil, No. 445, and affirmed in Dize v. Maddrix, No. 554.

No. 445

Respondent was employed by petitioner in New York, and in New York gave to petitioner, without consideration, a purported written release of its obligation to pay the statutory liquidated damages prescribed by § 16(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Section 243 of the Debtor and Creditor law of New York declares a written instrument purporting to release "all claims, debts, demands or obligations . . . shall not be invalid because of the absence of consideration or of a seal." Counsel are agreed that, unless the words or policy of the Fair Labor Standards Act preclude, the written release was as effective to discharge the obligation for liquidate damages as was the release under seal at common law.

We find nothing in the Fair Labor Standards Act to prevent the effective operation of such a release upon the cause of action for liquidated damages more than any other. Section 16(b) of the Act authorizes the employee to recover liquidated damages from an employer who violates the duty imposed by §§ 6 and 7 of the Act to pay the prescribed minimum and overtime wages. That duty is expressed in §§ 6 and 7 in terms of a command to the employer. Willful failure to obey it is made a criminal offense by §§ 15(a)(2) and 16(a), and authority to enjoin violations of §§ 6 and 7 is given by §§ 15 and 17.

These provisions, and these alone, afford some basis for inferring a Congressional policy against the release of minimum and overtime wages. But the Act places the right to recover liquidated damages authorized by § 16(b) on a very different footing. That section expresses no command. It merely imposes a civil liability on the employer, and gives an action to the employee to enforce the liability. Failure by the employer to pay the prescribed liquidated damages is not made a criminal offense by §§ 15 and 16, and may not be enjoined under §§ 15 and 17.

The studious avoidance of any provision making the nonpayment of the liquidated damages a public wrong, by the omissions of sanctions which the statute does impose for the failure to pay minimum and overtime wages, is the most persuasive kind of evidence that it was the Congressional purpose to leave undisturbed the general policy of the law that a mere private claim for damages may be released at the will of the claimant. It is not an answer to say that "there is no reason for making an employer subject to a criminal penalty or an injunction for failure to pay liquidated damages," since they are "collectible as private damages." It is precisely because the statute in this case has in every respect treated the claim for liquidated damages as a private claim while imposing sanctions, as for a public wrong, for nonpayment of minimum and overtime wages, that we must infer that Congress intended that the claim for liquidated damages should have the status of private claims, which are subject to release, a status which the statute denied to minimum and overtime wages.

This pointed difference in the treatment of the two classes of claims is underscored by the complete lack of any legislative history suggesting that there was any Congressional purpose to treat alike the two classes of claims which it treated so differently in the statute. In its progress through Congress, there was stricken from the bill, which was finally enacted as the Fair Labor Standards Act, a clause providing that any agreement for waiver of compliance with any provision of the Act should be void. Section 17(b), S. 2475, as passed by Senate, 75th Cong., 1st Sess., 1937. With this provision eliminated, the mandatory terms of §§ 6 and 7, the criminal penalties of the Act, and its provision for relief in equity, afford the sole ground to be found either within or without the statute for any inference of a Congressional policy against the release of claims arising under the Act. These factors concern only the minimum and overtime wages. They neither support nor suggest any Congressional policy against release of liquidated damages, to which they are inapplicable and wholly unrelated.

If such an undeclared policy is to be inferred, it must be inferred from the statute, read in its appropriate setting. The statute is silent as to any exceptional policy with respect to claims for unliquidated damages -- a silence which is given meaning by the provisions affirmatively making nonpayment of minimum and overtime wages a public wrong. Any inference that a release of minimum and overtime wages is invalid must be because the release is an aggravation of the public wrong. But to draw that inference is to foreclose the possibility of a like inference with respect to liquidated damages, the nonpayment of which is not made a public wrong.

We held in Overnight Motor Transp. Co. v. Missel, 316 U.S. 572, that the provision for liquidated damages is not punitive. Hence, it cannot, in itself, be said either to have created or sanctioned a public right or interest in the recovery of liquidated damages. In view of the uncertain coverage of the Act, we cannot ignore the fact that the statutory liability may be harsh in its application and enable the employee to recover an amount far in excess of any damage which he has in fact suffered. All these considerations persuasively suggest that Congress has adopted no policy which precludes the employee from releasing, as in the case of other claims, the claim for liquidated damages when the release conforms to local law and is procured without overreaching or unfairness.

On the contrary, the provisions of the Act show, and the legislative history emphasizes, that Congress intended to treat the liquidated damage obligation differently from its command to pay minimum and overtime wages. Because of this difference, we cannot say that it intended to place the employee so far in tutelage as not to be free to give, and the employer to obtain, a release of what is by the terms of the statute nothing more than a cause of action for damages which in fact he may or may not have suffered.

No. 554

There appears to have been no accord and satisfaction in this case, and, for the reasons stated in our opinion in Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’Neil, No. 445, the attempted release by respondent of his claim for overtime wages was void as against the policy of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Because of petitioner’s failure to pay overtime wages as directed by § 7 of the Act, respondent is entitled to recover liquidated damages as provided by § 16(b), and the judgment should be affirmed.

Contents:

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options


Title: Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’neil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945)

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’neil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945)

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Stone, "Stone, J., Concurring and Dissenting," Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’neil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945) in 324 U.S. 697 324 U.S. 717–324 U.S. 719. Original Sources, accessed August 9, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UJFL9431RMU93A.

MLA: Stone. "Stone, J., Concurring and Dissenting." Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’neil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945), in 324 U.S. 697, pp. 324 U.S. 717–324 U.S. 719. Original Sources. 9 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UJFL9431RMU93A.

Harvard: Stone, 'Stone, J., Concurring and Dissenting' in Brooklyn Savings Bank v. O’neil, 324 U.S. 697 (1945). cited in 1945, 324 U.S. 697, pp.324 U.S. 717–324 U.S. 719. Original Sources, retrieved 9 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UJFL9431RMU93A.