Second Circuit Decision Protects Workers Who Complain Of Wage Theft To Their Employer

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision, Greathouse v. JHS Security, which expands the scope of the anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Overruling its own precedent on the issue, the Court held that an employer may not take retaliatory action against an employee who brings a complaint to the employer.

The Fair Labor Standards Act requires most employers to pay both a minimum wage and overtime pay for all work over forty hours to most employees. The act also contains an anti-retaliation provision, which prohibits an employer from discharging or otherwise discriminating against an employee “…because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter.”

A prior decision by the Second Circuit, Lambert v. Genesee Hospital, took a restrictive view of this clause, holding that the statute did not protect individuals who raised complaints to their supervisors. Most other circuits held otherwise, but the result was that, since 1993, workers in states covered by the Second Circuit (New York, Connecticut, Vermont) could be fired by their employer for raising complaints of wage theft internally.

Lambert was called into question in 2011, by the Supreme Court’s decision in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. In Kasten, the Court ruled in favor of a worker who made an oral complaint to their supervisor about violations of the FLSA. The Court, however, limited its question as to whether a “complaint” had to be oral or written. It did not address the question of whether the complaint had to be made to a government agency or if a complaint to a supervisor was sufficient (although the employee in that case did make the complaint to the supervisor, the Court chose not to review that aspect of the case).

Today’s decision recognized that Kasten called Lambert into doubt. Revisiting the issue, the court chose to overrule Lambert and hold that a worker’s internal complaint to the employer can constitute “filing a complaint” protected by the anti-retaliation provisions of the Act. With today’s decision, the Second Circuit aligns itself with most other circuit courts on the issue, and gives workers an added degree of protection when dealing with their employers.

Congratulations are due to the firm of AndersonDodson, P.C. who took this case up on appeal and obtained an excellent result for both their client and all workers.

Posted in Employment Law, Fair Labor Standards Act
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