Supreme Court Grants Greater Protection against Retaliation for FLSA Complaints

 

        The Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision today that has provided workers with added protection from employers retaliating against employees who complain about violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The FLSA is the federal statute that establishes employment rules and regulations (i.e. minimum wage, overtime pay, etc.). The statute also has an anti-retaliation provision that prohibits an employer from terminating or discriminating against an employee that has “filed any complaint” alleging violations of the FLSA, testified or is going to testify, or served on an industry committee. In the suit of Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., Kasten alleged that Saint-Gobain violated this FLSA provision by terminating him for verbally complaining to company officials about not being compensated for time spent donning and doffing mandatory protective gear and walking to work areas between the timeclocks and the changing rooms. Before being granted certiorari by the Supreme Court, the Western District Court of Wisconsin first ruled that Saint-Gobain had violated the FLSA by failing to compensate its employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear, but ruled unfavorably as to Kasten’s retaliation claim. The District Court concluded that only written complaints were covered under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit also agreed with the District Court’s interpretation of the FLSA. However, upon review of the suit, the Supreme Court clarified that the FLSA anti-retaliation provision encompassed both written and oral complaints. The Supreme Court explained that, among other things, limiting the definition of “filing a complaint” to only written complaints completely undermines the purpose of the anti-retaliation provision, which is to forbid “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).

        This decision is a huge win for all FLSA covered employees and is another step in the right direction toward ensuring a better and more equal workplace.

Tyson Foods Workers Awarded Jury Verdict in FLSA Lawsuit

 

           A jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas awarded over $500,000 to a class of meatpacking plant employees on Thursday (3/17/11). The collective action lawsuit sought to recover earned wages and overtime pay for workers at a Tyson Foods, Inc. meat processing facility located in Finney County, Kansas. The workers alleged that they performed several duties throughout their shifts for which they were not paid, such as changing into the required protective work uniforms and safety equipment (work pants and shirts, hard hats, safety boots, hair nets, etc.), and substantial walks to and from the changing area, work areas, and break areas. In awarding a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the jury found that Tyson Foods, Inc. violated both the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Kansas Wage Payment Act (“KWPA) by failing to compensate their Finney County employees for all hours worked.

            Owners of these types of facilities have historically been the subjects of litigation under the FLSA and state wage acts when they engage in miserly pay practices, such as trying to save money by not compensating employees for time spent donning and doffing protective gear and the subsequent walks to their workstations. Generally, if an employee performs a task that is primarily for the benefit of the employer, then the employee must be compensated for that time. Also, under the “continuous workday rule”, once an employee has engaged in such a principal activity, the employee’s workday has begun. Therefore, if the donning and doffing of protective gear is substantial enough and considered a principal activity primarily for the benefit of the employer, the workday has begun and the employee’s subsequent walk to their workstation should be considered compensable work time.