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Home / Opinion / 09-834 Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.

09-834 Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.

Employment
FLSA; retaliation

The scope of statutory term “filed any complaint” in the Fair Labor Standards Act includes oral, as well as written, complaints.

A narrow interpretation would undermine the Act’s basic objective,  which is to prohibit “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). The Act relies for enforcement of  its substantive standards on “information and complaints received from  employees,” Mitchell v. Robert DeMario Jewelry, Inc. , 361 U. S. 288 , and its  antiretaliation provision makes the enforcement scheme effective by preventing  “fear of economic retaliation” from inducing workers “quietly to accept  substandard conditions,” ibid. 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 the illiterate, less educated, or overworked workers who were most  in need of the Act’s help at the time of passage? Limiting the provision’s scope  to written complaints could prevent Government agencies from using hotlines,  interviews, and other oral methods to receive complaints. And insofar as the  provision covers complaints made to employers, a limiting reading would  discourage using informal workplace grievance procedures to secure compliance  with the Act. The National Labor Relations Act’s antiretaliation provision has  been broadly interpreted as protecting workers who simply “participate[d] in a  [National Labor Relations] Board investigation.” NLRB v. Scrivener , 405 U. S.  117 . The similar enforcement needs of this related statute argue for a broad  interpretation of “complaint.” The Act’s requirement that an employer receive  fair notice of an employee’s complaint can be met by oral, as well as written,  complaints.

570 F. 3d 834, vacated and remanded.

Local effect: The opinion reversed arose in the Seventh Circuit.

09-834 Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.

Breyer, J.; Scalia, J., dissenting.

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