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Workplace Retaliation: Court Makes It Easier to Sue Employers

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

If you've ever complained about a legal violation to your employer, chances are that you feared (or experienced) workplace retaliation.

But did you know that almost every employee protection law in this country bars employer retaliation should you file a complaint? Well they do, and those provisions may have just gotten easier to enforce.

In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., the Supreme Court ruled that, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, workplace retaliation is illegal should an employee file a written or an oral complaint.

As a bit of background, the FLSA regulates wages and overtime pay, as well as hours worked. Employers are not permitted to do anything to discourage employees from working off the clock.

According to the Court's decision, Saint-Gobain had placed the timeclock in an area that prevented employees from clocking in prior to putting on appropriate gear. Kasten orally complained to the company about the situation, and was discharged within a few days.

He sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act, alleging that his discharge was the result of employer retaliation stemming from his oral complaint about the timeclock violation.

The actual statutory language of the FLSA states that an employer cannot "discharge or...discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint" alleging a violation of the Act.

At issue in Katsen was whether "filed any complaint" requires an employee to file a written complaint, or if an oral complaint is sufficient to bring suit.

In deciding that an oral complaint is sufficient, the Court relied on legislative intent. It felt that requiring written complaints would undermine the Act, by burdening employees who have difficulty with writing. It additionally felt that, because the government does not conduct constant monitoring, the only enforcement mechanism is the employees, making flexibility desirable.

What this means for the ordinary person is that employer retaliation under the FLSA is easier to fight in court. It also may mean that workplace retaliation under other laws may be easier to fight as well. The Court indicated that it overall supports the use of oral complaint systems to fight retaliation.

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