The U.S. Supreme Court today (March 22, 2011) overturned the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that, to be valid, complaints under the anti-retaliation provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must be in writing.
In Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the justices rejected what they termed a "narrow interpretation" of language in the FLSA and threw open the statute's protection to oral complaints as well as written ones. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The "narrow interpretation" refers to the passage in the FLSA that forbids an employer to “discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint.” Much of the arguing back and forth hinged on the definition of "filed."
Asking a rhetorical question, the majority opinion reached this game-changing conclusion:
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.
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