In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the United States Supreme Court concluded that the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act covers oral complaints — but only if they are “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 issue of what qualifies as a “clear and detailed … assertion of rights” was front and center in Riffle v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (N.D. Ohio 1/24/12).
In Riffle, the only complaints the plaintiff made to her Wal-Mart supervisors were complaints about receiving telephone calls she received at home from co-workers who needed assistance in the cash office. The court concluded that the complaints did not satisfy the threshold established in Kasten.
Plaintiff’s complaints … are insufficient because they are not framed in terms of an FLSA violation as required by Kasten. The complaints plaintiff testified she made to her supervisors could not have reasonably been perceived by defendants as a complaint that plaintiff was not being paid in accordance with the requirements of the FLSA or that defendants otherwise violated the FLSA.
Following Riffle, employers have some guidance as to the types of communications that do not qualify for protection under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision. Figuring out what does qualify will prove trickier, and will take years of cases and judicial opinions to sort out.
In the meantime, try not to do the following to your employees who engage in some protected activity: