U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Anti-Retaliation Protection of Fair Labor Standards Act Applies to Informal Complaints

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) requires that employers pay employees at least the minimum wage for each hour worked, and 1-1/2 times their regular hourly rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in any workweek. In addition, the FLSA contains anti-retaliation protections to employees who make complaints of minimum wage and overtime violations.

Until today, it was unclear whether employees making informal oral or written complaints of FLSA violations, as opposed to more formal complaints filed in court or with the Department of Labor, were entitled to protection from retaliation, such as termination. In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.the United States Supreme Court resolved the issue, by holding that the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision did not only protect employees filing written claims in court or with the Department of Labor, but also employees who submit informal oral complaints.
The FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision forbids employers “to. . . discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to [the FLSA].” FLSA ยง 215(a)(3)(emphasis added).
At issue was whether “filed any complaint” also included informal oral complaints. The Supreme Court held that the phrase was broad enough to include informal oral and written complaints.
The New York Labor Law also provides anti-retaliation protection to employees, but it has always been interpreted as protecting informal as well as formal complaints of minimum wage or overtime violations. In addition, the New York Labor Law protects employees who make such complaints to their employers. Although the Supreme Court did not expressly decide whether oral complaints to employers (as opposed to oral complaints to the Department of Labor) triggered the anti-retaliation provisions, it is likely that the Supreme Court will eventually render such a holding, once the issue is squarely before it.

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