Employment-Supreme Court Rules That An Oral Complaint Constitutes A Filed Complaint For Purposes of the FLSA’s Antiretaliation Rule

In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., No. 09-834 (S. Ct. 2011), the Petitioner, Kasten, had brought an antiretaliation suit against his former employer, respondent (“Saint-Gobain”), under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (the “FLSA”). The suit was based on a provision of the FLSA which forbids employers “to discharge … any employee because such employee has filed any complaint” alleging a violation of the FLSA (29 U.S.C. section 215(a)(3)). In a related suit, the district court had found that Saint-Gobain violated the FLSA by placing timeclocks in a location that prevented workers from receiving credit for the time they spent donning and doffing work-related protective gear. In this suit, Kasten claims that he was discharged because he orally complained to company officials about the timeclocks. The district court granted Saint-Gobain summary judgment, concluding that the FSLA’s antiretaliation provision did not cover oral complaints. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. But did Kasten’s oral complaint constitute a “filed complaint” for purposes of that provision?

The Supreme Court ruled that statutory term “filed any complaint” , in the FLSA antiretaliation provision, includes oral complaints. This ruling is based on the reading of the whole statutory text, the FLSA’s objective, and interpretations by the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. Given this ruling, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Seventh Circuit’s decision.