Complaint re: Wages on Facebook Not Basis for FLSA Retaliation Claim

The FLSA continues to strike fear in the hearts of many employers. And for good reason. The law is difficult to understand and not always easy to apply. Moreover, the penalties for failure to comply are steep and litigation of an FLSA claim–particularly one brought as a class (collective) action–is costly.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation gives employers yet another reason to worry about the FLSA. In Kasten, the Supreme Court ruled that an employee who complains to his employer about unpaid wages has engaged in “protected activity” under the FLSA. If the employee is subject to some adverse action (i.e., termination), in retaliation for his complaint (protected activity), the employer can be held liable. The critical holding in Kasten is the Court’s finding that, to qualify as a protected activity, the complaint need not be written; oral complaints are covered under the anti-relation provision of the FLSA.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida (Tampa), is one of the first courts to apply the Kasten decision and may be the very first to decide a retaliation claim in the context of social media. In Morse v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., the plaintiff, Lilli Morse, alleged that her former employer failed to pay her overtime wages. She also alleged that she was terminated in violation of the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision when she complained on her Facebook page.

The employer moved to dismiss both counts. The court ruled that the plaintiff had pleaded sufficient facts on her unpaid-overtime claim but dismissed the retaliation claim. The question before the court on the motion to dismiss was:

Whether a posting on an employee’s Facebook page constitutes the filing of a complaint within the meaning of the FLSA.

In answering this question in the negative, the court explained:

Morse does not allege that she made anything close to a serious complaint to her employer. In fact, she never complained to her employer at all. She simply voiced her disagreement with her employer’s payment practices on her Facebook page. This “letting off steam” falls far short of the activity protected by [the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provision].

This decision is an important one for employers struggling to manage the complexities of social media and its impact on workplace laws and policies.

Morse v. JP Morgan Chase & Co., No. 8:11-CV-779-T-27EAJ (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2011).

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