The Fair Labor Standards Act is the federal law that requires most employers to pay a minimum wage and overtime.  The FLSA also includes an anti-retaliation provision that prohibits an employer from discharging any employee who has "filed a complaint" under the FLSA because of that complaint.  The issue at the high court in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., was whether an oral complaint constitutes the "filing of a complaint" under the anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA.

Kasten filed his suit after his employment ended claiming that he was retaliated against for making oral complaints about the Company’s placement of time clocks that Kasten believed had the effect of preventing workers from receiving credit for time spent for donning and doffing work-related protective gear.  In other words, Kasten alleged that he made complaints to his employer that employees were not being paid for all working time as required by the FLSA.  Kasten apparently never put his complaints in writing.  The trial court dismissed Kasten’s claim holding that Kasten failed to engage in legally protected activity under the FLSA because the Act did not cover oral complaints. 

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the judgment against Kasten and held that the FLSA’s statutory language prohibiting retaliation for filing a complaint includes oral as well as written complaints. The Court arrived at its decision by interpreting the statutory phrase itself and by taking into account the remedial purpose of the anti-retaliation provisions.  Consequently, when an employee makes an oral complaint about an FLSA violation, he or she has filed a complaint for purposes of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provisions and can bring a suit alleging that he or she was discharged in violation of the Act.

A full copy of the Court’s opinion in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. can be accessed here.