Most employment lawyers and HR professionals know that firing an employee for making a complaint about being paid properly is a recipe for disaster. This week in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals thought differently, at least for verbal complaints about violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
The plaintiff, Kevin Kasten, was reprimanded three times for failing to clock in and out. In response, he complained that the location of the time clock was illegal because, among other things, it prevented employees from being paid for time donning and doffing protective gear. After Kasten failed to clock in a fourth time, he was terminated. Kasten sued under the FLSA, claiming that he had been terminated in retaliation for his complaint.
The FLSA protects employees who have "filed any complaint" under FLSA and whose employers retaliate against them for complaining. The Seventh Circuit ruled that because a complaint must be "filed," verbal complaints are not protected by FLSA.
The takeaway? Despite this ruling, we at the Stoel Rives World of Employment think that employers should be wary of terminating employees for verbal complaints. As others have noted, the case law in other circuits may contradict the Seventh Circuit on this issue. Even more crucially, plaintiffs making verbal complaints may have other causes of action under state statutory law or common law.