Oral Complaints Can Provide Basis For FLSA Retaliation Claim


The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the anti retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) extends to an employee’s oral complaints. The anti-retaliation provision, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), makes it illegal for an employer “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 FLSA]...” (emphasis added). In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 131 S.Ct. 1325 (2011), the Court held that the term “any complaint” includes oral and written complaints. The decision in Kasten continues a recent trend of rulings that have expanded employment-related anti-retaliation laws.

Facts of Case

In October 2006, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. employee Kevin Kasten allegedly began orally complaining that the location of the company’s time clocks prevented employees from being paid for time they spent donning and doffing required protective gear prior to reporting to their job location and after finishing their shifts. From October through December 2006, the company disciplined Kasten for failing to clock in and out as required by company policy. A third warning, issued in November 2006, resulted in a oneday suspension. Kasten allegedly continued to complain about the location of the time clocks and did not clock in and out as required. Ultimately, the company suspended Kasten on December 6, and then terminated his employment five days later.

Following his termination, Kasten filed a lawsuit against Saint Gobain in which he claimed he had been fired in retaliation for his complaints about the location of the time clocks. A federal district court ruled in favor of Saint-Gobain, finding that the FLSA’s antiretaliation provision did not apply to oral complaints. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of Saint-Gobain. The Supreme Court disagreed and reversed the lower courts’ decisions.

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