Supreme Court Says Verbal Complaints of Alleged FLSA Violations are Protected

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In a 6-2 decision, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., ___ U.S. ___, No. 09-834 (2011), that an employee’s verbal complaint about alleged wage and hour violations can be sufficient to trigger the anti-retaliation protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).

At issue was the provision in the statute that makes it illegal “to discharge . . . any employee because such employee has filed any complaint” alleging a violation of the Act. 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). Plaintiff Kevin Kasten, a former employee of Saint-Gobain, alleged he was terminated in retaliation for making oral complaints to his supervisors and human resources personnel regarding the location of the company’s time clocks, which Kasten alleged prevented employees from recording time spent “donning and doffing” protective equipment. The question before the Court was whether the phrase “filed any complaint” in the statutory text of the FLSA included both verbal and written complaints. The District Court granted Saint-Gobain’s motion for summary judgment, concluding the FLSA's anti-retaliation provision did not cover verbal complaints. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

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