A Recent Federal Appeals Court Decision Serves as a Reminder of the Breadth of the FLSA’s Anti-Retaliation Protections

Many workers probably know that they can pursue legal action if they incur retribution from their employer for speaking out against discrimination or harassment. However, Title VII isn’t the only law with a prohibition against retaliation. You may also be entitled to hold your employer accountable if they punished you for taking part or being “about to” participate in opposing illegal practices under the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Fair Labor Standards Act. If that’s happened to you, you should contact a knowledgeable Atlanta retaliation lawyer to discuss your situation.

While not a case from Georgia, a recent retaliation matter in the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals shows how broad the coverage of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision can be.

The events culminating in the decision started in early 2019. That was when M.M., a former employer at an oil and gas production corporation, filed a class action complaint under the FLSA. The case accused the employer of failing to pay overtime compensation that the workers had earned.

In August of that year, one of M.M.’s alleged coworkers, M.U., applied for a job with a Pennsylvania-based subsidiary of the oil and gas corporation. One of the subsidiary’s managers sent M.U. a text saying that, although he was well-qualified for the position he sought, the parent corporation had decided that the subsidiary would not hire any potential plaintiffs in M.M.’s class action.

A few weeks later, M.U. officially joined the class action lawsuit. He also pursued his own separate case against the employer, alleging that when it denied his application with the subsidiary, it violated Section 15(a)(3) of the FLSA.

Specifically, Section 15(a)(3) says that it’s illegal for an employer to engage in retaliatory termination or discrimination against a worker who “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, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee.”

M.U. had not filed a complaint, had not testified, and had not served (and was not about to serve) on an industry committee, so his case seemed to come down to whether or not he qualified as being “about to testify” in an FLSA proceeding.

The appeals court said he did. In reaching that outcome in favor of the worker, the court reiterated the “broad, remedial purpose of the FLSA,” including Section 15(a)(3). That subsection exists, the court said, “to prevent a fear of retaliation from chilling employees’ assertion of FLSA rights,” so courts should generally favor the interpretation that expands, not restricts, the law’s reach.

Your Employer’s Belief Can Help Your Case as Much as Your Actual Intentions

Given that framework, the court concluded that if an employer even just “anticipates that the employee will soon testify,” then that worker qualifies as someone “about to testify” for purposes of the anti-retaliation provisions of Section 15(a)(3). Additionally, even though M.U. had no yet offered any testimony, the court ruled that when he filed his consent to join M.M.’s class action, he qualified as having testified for purposes of Section 15(a(3).

The law refers to actions like taking action (orally or in writing) against discrimination, harassment, wage-and-hour violations, or FMLA violations (or participating in someone else’s action) as “protected activity” for a reason. The law is clear that doing these things should not come at a price of harm to your career. If you’ve endured this sort of illegal conduct, the experienced Atlanta workplace retaliation attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert are here to help. Our attorneys are skilled at resolving retaliation matters. For the knowledgeable advice and advocacy you need, contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation.

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