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.