Last time, we were looking at a recent case from the Second Circuit that involved a security guard who had filed a claim for unpaid wages and retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). A lower court had allowed is unpaid wage claim, but dismissed his retaliation claim because he had made an oral complaint to his supervisor and not written complaint to a governmental agency.
The Second Circuit, in light of a U.S. Supreme Court case, reconsidered its own precedent on the issue of whether the FLSA retaliation claim requires a formal written complaint to an enforcement agency like the EEOC, or if an oral complaint made to a supervisor is sufficient.
The phrase at issue was “file any complaint.” The court noted that the Supreme Court and other courts of appeal have found the phrase to be broad enough to encompass submissions to employers as part of an internal complaint process.
They based this conclusion on the statutory purpose of the FLSA, which is to protect workers’ labor conditions. Because of limitations on government resources, the FLSA uses “an enforcement mechanism that relies in significant part on employees’ complaints.”
Anti-retaliation protection is essential in this process, as knowing they are protected encourages employees to first complain to their employers, who should acknowledge violations of the FLSA and quickly remedy them without resort to filing with governmental agencies.
This expansive interpretation of filing is support by the agencies that work with these cases, including the EEOC.
The Second Circuit, however, reminds employees that with oral complaints, it must be clear enough to objectively place on notice the employer that the employee is making a complaint about their statutory rights. Employees need not specifically mention the FLSA, but it should be clear from the context that the employee believes the employer to violating the law.
Because of the change in precedent, the Second Circuit remanded the case to the lower court to determine the facts and whether the employee’s complaint was clear enough to place the employer on notice of his statutory claim.