Articles Posted in Retaliation

Mr. Kasten was fired by Saint-Gobain because he complained that the company prevented its workers from being paid for the time they spent “donning and doffing” (putting on required protective gear). He claimed that the location of the company’s time clocks caused this problem. Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastic Corp., __ U.S. __ (March 22, 2011).

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits employers from discharging “any employee because such employee has filed any complaint” asserting a violation of the Act. 29 U.S.C. Section 215(a)(3). This case turned solely upon the Supreme Court’s holding that the phrase “filed any complaint” includes the making of an oral complaint, here to Saint-Gobain’s officials.

The Court held that the “purpose and context” of the anti-retaliation provision led it to this interpretation. It noted that very real problems could occur if the provision did not protect those who complained orally: it could prevent government agencies from using hotlines; it could discourage the use of informal workplace grievance procedures; and it could make it difficult for workers who are less educated to complain. This led the Court to adopt a broad interpretation of the statute.

In an important case, Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 131 S.Ct. 863 (January 24, 2011), the US Supreme Court put an end to retaliation against an employee who takes protected activity by retaliating against someone “closely” associated with her. It did so in order to protect the spirit of Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision.

In this case, Ms. Regalado, an employee of defendant North American Stainless, filed a charge of sex discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Three weeks later, the defendant fired her fiancé, plaintiff Thompson. Thompson alleges that his firing was in retaliation for his fianceé’s filing of her charge of discrimination.

The US Supreme Court upheld Thompson’s charge, indicating that, if true, his firing violated the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII. Relying on the spirit of the anti-retaliation provision, the Court held that the provision was intended to protect against employment actions that “….might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination”, quoting Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway v. White, 548 US 53 (2006). The Court went on to indicate that not all third parties will be protected by this ruling, noting that a close family member will be treated differently than a mere acquaintance.