United States Supreme Court Broadens Anti-Retaliation Law

The Supreme Court recently decided that an employee’s oral complaints of violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act could protect that employee from employer retaliation.  The case is called Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation.

Kevin Kasten claimed that he had made numerous oral complaints within the company — to his supervisor, his lead operator, the operations manager, and human resources personnel — about the location of the company’s time clocks, which were situated between where the employees had to don their protective gear and where the employees actually had to work. This meant that employees were not paid for the time they spend putting on their gear at the beginning of their shift and taking it off at the end, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
In a separate lawsuit, a federal court found in Kasten’s favor on the underlying complaint about the time clocks. The lawsuit that made it to the Supreme Court was about Kasten’s retaliation claim: He alleged that he was disciplined and ultimately fired because of his complaints to the company. The company countered that Kasten was fired because he refused to use the time clocks. It also argued that Kasten couldn’t claim retaliation, because the FLSA protects only employees who “file” a complaint, which, according to the employer, must be done in writing.
The Supreme Court found for Kasten.  The Court determined that the term “file” doesn’t necessarily require a document. The Court also concluded that requiring employees to put complaints in writing would thwart the statute’s protective purpose by discouraging complaints from those who are less educated, illiterate, or simply overworked. On the other hand, the Court agreed with the employer that the employee’s complaint had to be sufficient to put the company on notice of the problem in order to trigger the law’s retaliation provisions.   So the Court came up with this standard:  “To fall within the scope of the antiretaliation provision, a complaint must be 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 and a call for their protection.”
Erbe Law Firm can assist with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact Erbe Law Firm for a free initial consultation with an employment law or labor law attorney.
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