Recently, the Supreme Court interpreted the complaint provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which deals with minimum wage and overtime. 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Perf. Plastics Corp., the Court addressed the phrase “filed any complaint” and determined that this included oral, as well as written, complaints.

In Kasten, the employee complained to his shift supervisor, an HR employee, his lead operator, and the HR manager that the location of the time clocks in the plant “was illegal,” because it required him to don his work clothing before punching in and to punch out before doffing his clothing. Kasten was eventually fired and he filed a complaint for retaliation under the FLSA. After dismissal on summary judgment and the Seventh Circuit’s affirmance of summary judgment, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether Kasten’s oral complaints satisfied the definition of “filed any complaint” under the FLSA.

The Court examined the ordinary meaning of the words of the phrase and determined that it could be interpreted to cover oral complaints. Because the Act’s objective is to promote the well-being of workers and it relies on employees seeking vindication of those rights, the Court found that it should be interpreted broadly, rather than narrowly. It also looked to the Secretary of Labor’s view that it covers oral complaints and gave a “degree of weight” about its views because Congress delegated its enforcement authority to it. Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that an employee who files an oral complaint is covered under the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Two Justices dissented, not because oral complaints should not count, but because the employee complained to the employer. The dissent felt that the FLSA “does not cover complaints to the employer at all” and the anti-retaliation provision of the FLSA pertains only to complaints “made to judicial or administrative bodies.” The majority declined to address the question, leaving it for the lower courts to decide for themselves.

By: Chelsea Long