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U.S. Supreme Court Expands Anti-Retaliation Protections for Employees

The recent United States Supreme Court decision in Kasten v. St. Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. expanded employers’ potential liability for retaliation by clarifying that oral complaints to supervisors about wage and hour violations fall within the anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). This decision is a reminder to employers to take all complaints seriously, regardless of how they are communicated to management.

The plaintiff in Kasten made several oral complaints to his supervisors that the location of time clocks in his workplace violated the FLSA. Specifically, he complained that the clocks’ locations prevented employees from punching in and out while they were putting on and taking off work clothes and protective equipment. The plaintiff even said he was thinking of filing a lawsuit about the issue. Shortly after he complained to his supervisors, Mr. Kasten was disciplined and then terminated.

Mr. Kasten sued his former employer for retaliation under the FLSA. The District Court granted summary judgment to the defendant company and dismissed the case, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, holding that the FLSA anti-retaliation provision protected only written complaints.

The Supreme Court reversed the earlier decisions, holding that the word “file” in the relevant statute could also mean the filing of oral complaints. Much of the courts analysis discussed various meanings of the word “file,” but the important message for employers is that oral complaints of wage and hour violations may give rise to retaliation claims. The Kasten decision brings the analysis of FLSA retaliation law in line with other federal employment statutes, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, that already clearly protect oral complaints.

The Kasten opinion did not resolve the question of how much an employee must say to put the employer on fair notice that he or she is making a protected complaint. Employers must be aware, however, that the courts read anti-retaliation protections broadly, and should fully investigate all employee complaints. In addition, an employer who takes any adverse employment actions  against employees who have complained should be able to articulate a legitimate reason for the action unrelated to the complaint in order to defend against a potential claim. It is also helpful to document the reason in the employee’s file.

© 2022 Poyner Spruill LLP. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume I, Number 133
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About this Author

Kevin M. Ceglowski, Employment and Labor Lawyer, Poyner Spruill, Law Firm
Partner

Kevin represents employers in many areas of labor and employment law, including race, age, gender, religion, national original, and disability employment discrimination claims, wrongful discharge claims, and wage and hour claims. He defends clients before administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor, and the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, in state and federal courts, and in arbitrations. Kevin also provides guidance to management to ensure employment practices are in full compliance with all...

919-783-2853
David L. Woodard, Employment Litigation Attorney, Poyner Spruill, Law firm
Partner

David practices in the area of employment litigation.  He regularly advises and defends clients in race, age, disability and sex discrimination and harassment cases; reviews handbooks and termination issues; and provides compliance advice on matters of employment law.

Representative Experience

McNeil v. Scotland County - Obtained summary judgment for employer where plaintiff alleged race discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as violation of the Americans...

919-783-2854
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