U.S. Supreme Court Rules Anti-Retaliation Provisions Of FLSA Apply to Oral Complaints

Posted on: March 28th, 2011 by Steve Larson

Potential members of Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA) collective actions are often concerned that they might be terminated if they participate in an FLSA opt-in collective action.  However, the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 22, 2011, made it clear that the anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA are broad and will protect employees from termination.

The Fair Labor Standards Act sets forth employment rules concerning minimum wages, maximum hours, and overtime pay.  The Act also contains an anti-retaliation provision that forbids employers from discharging any employee because such employee has filed a complaint about a violation of the FLSA. The case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Kasten v.Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 563 U.S. __ (2011), presented the question of whether the anti-retaliation provision also applied to oral complaints.  In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer (6-2), the U.S. Supreme Court held in Kasten that an employee who orally complains to his or her employer about a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) is protected from retaliation at the hands of the employer. The United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin had held that Kevin Kasten’s complaints to his employer about violations of the FLSA did not protect him from retaliation because they were oral rather than in writing. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed that decision.

Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented arguing that the complaints referred to in the FLSA referred only to official grievances filed with a court or an agency.  Those guys always side with big business.