Earlier this week the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. holding, ‘[t]he scope of the statutory term “filed any complaint” includes oral, as well as written complaints.’

This case arose when Mr. Kasten was fired, he alleges, for complaining to his supervisors and human resources about the unlawful location of the time clocks at the Saint-Gobain facility. After his termination, he filed an anti-retaliation lawsuit claiming violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The Supreme Court did an extensive analysis of the phrase, “filed any complaint”, before holding in favor of Mr. Kasten and remanding the case for further proceedings.

Saint-Gobain argued, if oral complaints would suffice, then employers will be left in a state of uncertainty about whether an employee is making an actual complaint or perhaps just blowing off steam. The Court agreed with Saint-Gobain and stated, “the phrase “filed any complaint” contemplates some degree of formality, certainly to the point where the recipient has been given fair notice that a grievance has been lodged and does, or should, reasonably understand the matter as part of its business concerns.” But, the Court proceeded to side with Mr. Kasten.

Given how long the Fair Labor Standards Act has been in effect, it is surprising this type of case hasn’t come before the Court earlier. Now, Employers need to be pay attention to any verbal complaints raised by employees, and address them in the same manner as a more formal written complaint.