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FLSA Protects Complaints About Work Conditions

Because of the court's trend in expanding protection against retaliation, employers need to be cautious when disciplining employees who have made complaints about FLSA violations.

March 8, 2012
Related Topics: Top Stories - Frontpage, FLSA, Legal
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Kathy Minor began working for Bostwick Laboratories Inc. as a medical technologist in December 2007. On May 6, 2008, Minor and several co-workers met with Bostwick chief operating officer Bill Miller to discuss concerns about supervisor Dawn Webber.

Minor complained that Webber was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act by removing overtime hours from employees' time sheets. Miller responded that he would investigate the allegations. Several days later, on May 12, Minor was fired, allegedly for conflict with her supervisor. Minor filed a lawsuit for FLSA retaliation against the company in June 2009 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The district court dismissed Minor's claim, finding that the FLSA's anti-retaliation provision does not apply to internal, or intracompany, complaints. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed the district court's decision and joined the majority of circuit courts holding that intracompany complaints to management may constitute protected activity as long as it is "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 4th Circuit relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 131 S.Ct. 1325 (2011), that courts should not "discourage the use of desirable informal workplace grievance procedures to secure complaints with the FLSA," and that "an interpretation that limits [internal complaints] to complaints made before an administrative or judicial body would overly circumscribe the reach of the antiretaliation provision in contravention of the FLSA's remedial purpose." Minor v. Bostwick Labs. Inc., 4th Cir., No. 10-1258, (Jan. 27, 2012).

IMPACT: Because of the court's trend in expanding protection against retaliation, employers need to be cautious when disciplining employees who have made complaints about FLSA violations.

James E. Hall, Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm of Barlow, Kobata & Denis, with offices in Los Angeles and Chicago. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

Workforce Management, March 2012, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

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