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Intracompany Complaint May Constitute Activity Protected by Antiretaliation Provision of Fair Labor Standards Act

Kathy Minor v. Bostwick Laboratories
Case No.: 10-1258 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, January 27, 2012)

by Eric M. Leppo, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (www.semmes.com)

In this recently issued opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Court reversed the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia’s decision granting Defendant Bostick Laboratories’ Motion to Dismiss. The Court held that complaints within a company may be protected activity within the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (“FLSA”) antiretaliation provision.

The Plaintiff Kathy Minor was hired in December, 2007 as a medical technologist by Bostwick Laboratories. On May 6, 2008, the Plaintiff and other members of her department met with Bostwick’s chief operating officer Bill Miller. The Plaintiff and other employees believed that Minor’s supervisor had willfully violated the FLSA. Specifically, Plaintiff reported that her supervisor, Dawn Webber, routinely altered employees’ time sheets to reflect that they had not worked overtime when they had. The COO indicated that he would look into these allegations.

The following week, on May 12, 2008, Bostwick terminated the Plaintiff’s employment. Bostick’s management informed Plaintiff that she was being fired because there was "too much conflict with [her] supervisors and the relationship just [was not] working." Minor, at *3. Thereafter, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Bostwick in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia alleging that Bostwick terminated her employment in retaliation for engaging in activity protected under the FLSA’s antiretaliation provision, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3).

That provision makes it unlawful for a covered employer to "discharge or in any manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding." 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). Minor argued that in reporting FLSA violations to her employer, she should be protected because she has “filed any complaint.”

Bostick argued, and the District Court agreed, that because Minor alleged only that she was discharged in retaliation for reporting alleged FLSA violations internally to Bostwick management there was no protection under the FLSA provision. As such, the District Court granted Bostwick’s Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss on the basis that Minor had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

The Appellate Court disagreed. The Court first noted that the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 131 S. Ct. 1325 (2011). In the Kasten case, the Supreme Court held that the word "filed" in the statute does not unambiguously require writing and could include oral complaints. The Supreme Court in Kasten expressly declined to address the question of whether an intracompany complaint could qualify as protected activity under the FLSA; therefore, the question remained open for the Fourth Circuit to consider.

The Court then applied the tools of statutory interpretation, and gave great weight to the amicus brief filed by the Secretary of Labor; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Court concluded that, “because of the statute’s remedial purpose, § 215(a)(3) must be interpreted to include intracompany complaints.” Minor, at *14. The Court concluded by citing again to Kasten that its holding does not mean that every instance of an employee "letting off steam" to his employer constitutes protected activity. Kasten, 131 S. Ct. at 1334. The Court, therefore, reversed the dismissal and remanded the action for further proceedings.


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