Supreme Court Watch: Part 1

The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term earlier this week.  For the first time, three of the justices are women, creating an historic moment for the Court.  Employers anticipate several important decisions coming from the cases being heard this term, as well.  In this first part in a series, we’ll post about three of the most interesting employment-law cases scheduled for oral argument this Fall.

Next week, the Court is scheduled to hear argument in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. Kasten sued his employer, alleging a retaliation claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Kasten’s employer had issued Kasten several disciplinary warnings because of his failure to properly clock-in and out of the company’s timekeeping system. Kasten claimed he made verbal complaints to his supervisors about the legality of the location of the timekeeping clock. Kasten claimed that the clock’s location prevented employees from being paid for donning and doffing their required protective gear. Kasten was eventually terminated for failing to follow the company’s policy with respect to clocking in and out. Kasten sued his employer for retaliation under the FLSA, alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for his verbal complaints.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, finding that intra-company complaints are protected activities under the FLSA, but unwritten complaints, like Kasten’s verbal complaints to his supervisors, are not included in the act as a protected activity.

Although there is a split among the circuits on this issue, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Seventh Circuit held that while the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision includes internal complaints as a protected activity, “to file” such a complaint means to file written complaint, not to merely submit a verbal complaint to one’s supervisor.

Kasten appealed the Seventh Circuit’s opinion after seeking rehearing, which was denied with a dissenting opinion. Oral argument on the question of whether an oral complaint is protected conduct under the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision is scheduled for October 13, 2010.