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Kasten v. St Gobain, decided 3-22-11 Sup Ct (excerpt)

re: Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 1938...'oral vs. written complaints'

Several functional considerations indicate that Congress intended the antiretaliation provision to cover oral, as well as written, "complaint[s]." First, an interpretation that limited the provision's coverage to written complaints would undermine the Act's basic objectives.

The Act seeks to prohibit "labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general well-being of workers." 29 U. S. C. ยง202(a). It does so in part by setting forth substantive wage, hour, and overtime standards. It relies for enforcement of these standards, not upon "continuing detailed federal supervision or inspection of payrolls," but upon "information and complaints received from employees seeking to vindicate rights claimed to have been denied." Mitchell v. Robert DeMario Jewelry, Inc., 361 U. S. 288, 292 (1960). And its antiretaliation provision makes this enforcement scheme effective by preventing "fear of economic retaliation" from inducing workers "quietly to accept substandard conditions." Ibid.

     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? President Franklin Roosevelt pointed out at the time that these were the workers most in need of the Act's help. See Message to Congress, May 24, 1937, H. R. Doc. No. 255, 75th Cong., 1st Sess., 4 (seeking a bill to help the poorest of "those who toil in factory").