Employee wins Fair Labor Standards Act case at Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of an employee in a Fair Labor Standards Act case. The Supreme Court ruled that workers who complain to their employers about wage violations are protected from retaliation whether the complaint is written or oral. The issue in the case was whether the phrase “filed any complaint” from the Fair Labor Standards Act applied to written complaints only. Much of the parties arguments’ and the Court’s discussion centered on whether an oral complaint could be filed.

The facts of the case arose from the complaint worker, Kevin Kasten, made with his employer the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation in Wisconsin. The worker complained about the location of time clocks that recorded the hours employees worked at the plastic manufacturer. Time clocks were positioned away from the area where workers put on and took off required protective gear for the job. According to another case, the positioning of the clock was a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Kasten complained orally to his employer about the placement of the time clock and was later fired by the company supposedly for unrelated reasons. Kasten sued the plastics manufacturer and claimed he was fired because of retaliation in submitting his time clock complaint. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit and explained that an oral complaint was not included in the FLSA.

Justice Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion, explained in his opinion that “filed” included oral submissions and to not include oral complaints would frustrate the law and government hot lines setup specifically to field workplace violations.

Source: The New York Times, “Justices back employee in wage complaint case,” Adam Liptak, 3/22/11

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