Farmworkers’ Forum Editorial
On 22 March 2011, in a 6-2 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workers do not need to have filed a written complaint against their employers to prove that they were fired in retaliation. Under this ruling, workers who make oral complaints to employers are equally protected from employer retaliation by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Because the language of the FLSA is consistent with the language of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA/AWPA), this ruling has particular applicability to farmworkers by extending the same anti-retaliatory protections to workers who “file” oral complaints instead of written complaints.
Justice Stephen Breyer writing for the majority emphasized the semantic interpretation of the language of the FLSA: “Filings may more often be made in writing . . . but we are interested in the filing of ‘any complaint.’ So even if the word ‘filed,’ considered alone, might suggest a narrow interpretation limited to writings, the phrase ‘any complaint’ suggests abroad interpretation that would include an oral complaint.”
“Why would Congress want to limit the enforcement scheme’s effectiveness by inhibiting use of the act’s complaint procedure by those who would find it difficult to reduce their complaints to writing, particularly illiterate, less educated, or overworked workers?” Justice Breyer wrote. “President Franklin Roosevelt pointed out at the time that these were the workers most in need of the act’s help.”
It is reasonable to assume that given the nature of farmworkers’ work environments and the demographics of farmworkers that oral complaints are the most common type of complaint that workers would be inclined and practically able to “file” with their employers.
Farmworkers’ Forum applauds the Supreme Court’s decision and this broader, more inclusive interpretation of the FLSA, and by implication, of the MSPA/AWPA.
Read the Supreme Court opinion: Kasten v. Saint-Gobain (PDF document).