Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BREAKING: SCOTUS Holds that Oral Complaints Receive Retaliation Protection Under FLSA

Earlier today, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Kasten v. St. Gobain. Justice Breyer, writing for the 6-2 majority (no Justice Kagan in this one):
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (Act) sets forth employment rules concerning minimum wages, maximum hours, and overtime pay. 52 Stat. 1060, 29 U. S. C. §201 et seq. The Act contains an antiretaliation provision that forbids employers
"to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to [the Act], or has testified or is about to testify in such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee."
§215(a)(3) (emphasis added). We must decide whether the statutory term "filed any complaint" includes oral as well as written complaints within its scope. We conclude that it does.
Thus, the FLSA antiretaliation provision provides protection for oral as well as written complaints from an employee to the employer (Update: The Court declined to rule on the issue of whether a complaint may be filed with a private employer as opposed to the government. As I will explain in a follow-up post, it appears as though an employer-complaint will satisfy the standard enunciated in this case.).

Justices Scalia (joined by Justice Thomas) dissented, concluding:
The plain meaning of the critical phrase and the context in which appears make clear that the retaliation provision contemplates an official grievance filed with a court or an agency, not oral complaints—oreven formal, written complaints—from an employee to an employer.
I'll have more detailed analysis later this week.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.