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Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.
What’s at stake?
Allowing corporations to get away with firing employees who report illegal practices in the workplace.
Whether employees who make verbal complaints should be protected from retaliation by their employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
March 22, 2010
6-2 in favor of Kasten. Justice Breyer delivered the opinion; Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Thomas in all but footnote 6; Justice Kagan recused.
What the court held:
The court held that anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply to employees who make verbal complaints to their employers about possible violations of labor laws as well as those who make written complaints. In this case, an employee was fired after making repeated verbal complaints that the company’s practice of not allowing employees to clock in for time spent donning required protective gear was illegal. The court looked to functional considerations, stating that “an interpretation that limited the provision’s coverage to written complaints would undermine the Act’s basic objectives,” which prohibit “labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers.”
The opinion also notes the high illiteracy rates among the poor in the years prior to passage of the FLSA and asked rhetorically: “Why would Congress want to limit the enforcement scheme’s effectiveness by inhibiting use of the Act’s complaint procedure by those who would find it difficult to reduce their complaints to writing, particularly illiterate, less educated, or overworked workers?” The court added that limiting the scope “would also take needed flexibility from those charged with the Act’s enforcement” by preventing the use of hotlines, interviews and other methods of receiving verbal complaints. The court also found the views of federal enforcement agencies to be persuasive, noting that both the Secretary of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believe that verbal complaints are covered.
The court recognized the need to protect employers, stating that the FLSA applies only to statements that give “fair notice that an employee is making a complaint that could subject the employer to a later claim of retaliation.” Nonetheless, the court held that verbal statements can be “sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by the statute and a call for their protection.”
- The New York Times: Justices Back Employee in Wage Complaint Case
- Whistleblowers Protection Blog: Supreme Court says internal oral complaints are "filed"
- Whistleblowers Protection Blog: Supreme Court grills attorneys on protecting oral complaints
- Brief for Petitioner Kevin Kasten
- Brief for Respondent Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, Corp.
- Reply Brief for Petitioner Kevin Kasten
- Brief for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for the United States of America in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Equal Justice Society, National Partnership for Women & Families, and National Women's Law Center in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for the National Employment Law Project, Interfaith Worker Justice, Legal Aid Society, Legal Momentum, National Domestic Workers Alliance, National Employment Lawyers Association, Restaurant Opportunities Center United, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Southern Poverty Law Center, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc., United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, and the Equal Justice Center in Support of Petitioner
- Brief for the Equal Employment Advisory Council, National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center in Support of Respondent