Can I lose my job for filing a complaint about overtime violations?

The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides the framework for regulation of what employees must be compensated for overtime work, and under what circumstances overtime pay is owed. FLSA also offers protections to employees in the event they file a complaint against their employer, and they have been a victim of retaliation, because provisions of FLSA rules are being violated.

Chapter 29 USC § 215(a) of the FLSA, the “anti-retaliatory statute” makes it unlawful for any person “to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee.”

The meaning of the phrase “filed any complaint” has been vigorously disputed in the federal courts, resulting in circuit splits on two issues:

1.Does “filed any complaint” protect only complaints to the government or does it also include internal complaints to the employer? The majority view held by the First, Third, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits is that internal complaints to an employer are protected, while the minority view held by the Second and Fourth Circuits is that only complaints to government authorities are protected.

2.Does “filed any complaint” mean that the complaint has to be in writing or are unwritten, oral complaints also protected? Following the same general pattern, the Second, Fourth and Seventh Circuits have held that unwritten, oral complaints are not protected, while the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits have protected unwritten, oral complaints.

The Supreme Court of the United States recently issued a decision that has provided workers with added protection from employers retaliating against employees who complain about violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The FLSA is the federal statute that establishes employment rules and regulations (i.e. minimum wage, overtime pay, etc.). The statute also has an anti-retaliation provision that prohibits an employer from terminating or discriminating against an employee that has “filed any complaint” alleging violations of the FLSA, testified or is going to testify, or served on an industry committee. In the suit of Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., Kasten alleged that Saint-Gobain violated this FLSA provision by terminating him for verbally complaining to company officials about not being compensated for time spent donning and doffing mandatory protective gear and walking to work areas between the timeclocks and the changing rooms. Before being granted certiorari by the Supreme Court, the Western District Court of Wisconsin first ruled that Saint-Gobain had violated the FLSA by failing to compensate its employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear, but ruled unfavorably as to Kasten’s retaliation claim. The District Court concluded that only written complaints were covered under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit also agreed with the District Court’s interpretation of the FLSA. However, upon review of the suit, the Supreme Court clarified that the FLSA anti-retaliation provision encompassed both written and oral complaints. The Supreme Court explained that, among other things, limiting the definition of “filing a complaint” to only written complaints completely undermines the purpose of the anti-retaliation provision, which is to forbid “labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers,” 29 U.S.C. §202(a).

This decision is a huge win for all FLSA covered employees and is another step in the right direction toward ensuring a better and more equal workplace.

In order to assert a prima facie claim of retaliation under the FLSA, a plaintiff must prove: (1) that he or she engaged in an activity protected by the FLSA; (2) that he or she suffered adverse action by the employer subsequent to or contemporaneous with such protected activity; and (3) a causal connection existed between the employee’s activity and the employer’s adverse action. See Conner v. Schnuck Markets, Inc., 121 F.3d 1390, 1394 (10th Cir.1997). If the employee establishes a prima facie claim of retaliation, the employer must provide a legitimate reason for the adverse action. Id. Once the employer sets forth a non-discriminatory reason for its adverse reaction, the plaintiff may attempt to demonstrate the pretextual nature of the explanation proffered.

Do think that you have been a victim of retaliation by your employer because you made a legitimate complaint that your rights to overtime have been violated under the FLSA? Do you have questions about you rights under the FLSA? If so, you need the help of an experienced, aggressive attorney to protect you from unlawful reprisals from your employer. You need the help of the law offices of Dan Newlin and Partners. Call our office today at (407) 888-8000. The call is free. Learn what rights and protections you have under Federal labor law. We would be honored to answer any overtime question that you may have. Don’t let someone take money out of your pocket or intimidate you into not getting what you deserve. Call now.