2nd Circuit Expands Worker Retaliation Shield

     (CN) – Overturning 20-year-old precedent, the 2nd Circuit ruled on Monday that federal labor laws protect employees from retaliation for oral complaints made to their employer.
     Darnell Greathouse, a security guard for JHS Security, claimed that his employer retaliated against him when he orally complained to his boss that he had not been paid in several months.
     In response, his boss said “I’ll pay you when I feel like it,” drew a gun, and pointed it at Greathouse. Greathouse understood this incident as ending his employment.
     The Fair Labor Standards Act FLSA makes it unlawful “to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint” related to the act’s provisions.
     In a 1993 case, Lambert v. Genesee Hospital, the 2nd Circuit ruled that the FLSA’s phrase “filed any complaint” did not encompass an informal oral complaint but only a formal written complaint.
     But the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics found that an oral complaint can serve as a predicate to an FLSA retaliation claim.
     In light of this guidance, the 2nd Circuit overturned Lambert on Monday and found that Greathouses’s oral complaint qualifies for FLSA protection.
     “Kasten overrules Lambert‘s requirement that an employee seeking section 215(a)(3)’s protections file a written complaint,” Judge Susan Carney wrote for the three-judge panel. “Kasten also casts doubt on Lambert‘s second requirement: that, for an employee’s complaint to fall within the protections of section 215(a)(3), it be made to a government agency.”
     Based on Kasten, an employee need only make an oral complaint to his or her employer that is “sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it,” the opinion said, quoting Supreme Court precedent.
     With this ruling, the 2nd Circuit joins the nation’s other circuits that have addressed the issue to include oral complaints in the FLSA’s scope.

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