Oral Complaints Of FLSA Violations Are Protected, Supreme Court Says

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Can an oral complaint about an employer’s compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act trigger the retaliation protections of the Act? The Supreme Court says yes, in a 6-2 decision issued on March 22, 2011.

The majority opinion in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., written by Justice Breyer, held that if an employee’s oral complaint is “sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by the statute,” it can trigger the antiretaliation protections of the FLSA. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which hears appeals from federal courts in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, had previously ruled in favor of the employer, holding that only written complaints constituted FLSA-protected activity. Justice Breyer was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Sotomayor.

The Court was called upon to interpret the language of Section 15(a (3) of the FLSA (29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3)), which provides that employers may not...

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