Employment-Fourth Circuit Rules That Adverse Employment Action In Response To An Internal Complaint Can Lead To A Claim Of Retaliation Under The FLSA

In Minor v. Bostwick Laboratories, Incorporated, No. 10-1258 (4th Cir. 2012), the plaintiff, Kathy Minor (“Minor”), was appealing the district court’s dismissal of her claim of retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) against her employer, Bostwick Laboratories, Incorporated (“Bostwick”). The issue for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”): Did Minor state a claim for retaliation under the FLSA, when she alleged that her employer terminated her in retaliation for reporting FLSA violations internally to the employer (as opposed to filing a complaint alleging the violations with a court or the government)?

In this case, on May 6, 2008, Minor and several other members of her department met with Bostwick’s chief operating officer, Bill Miller. The purpose of the meeting was to call to Miller’s attention the fact that Minor believed her supervisor, Dawn Webber, had willfully violated the FLSA. Specifically, Minor informed Miller that Webber routinely altered employees’ time sheets to reflect that they had not worked overtime when they had. At the conclusion of the meeting, Miller told the group that he would look into the allegations. The following Monday, May 12, 2008, Bostwick terminated Minor’s employment. This suit ensued.

In analyzing the case, the Court said that the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision, found in section 215(a)(3) of the FLSA, makes it unlawful for a covered employer to “discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding.” Did Minor “file any complaint” and thus become entitled to the protection of this provision? The Court reviewed the language in section 215(a)(3) of the FLSA and prior caselaw, including the Supreme Court’s holding in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation (holding that oral complaints to an employer qualifies as protected activity under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision). The Court concluded that Minor’s reporting FLSA violations internally to the employer constitutes “filing a complaint”, so that Minor was entitled to the protection of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision. As such, the Court reversed the district court’s summary judgment.