KASTEN v. SAINT-GOBAIN PERFORMANCE PLASTIC
On December 11, 2006, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastic terminated Kevin Kasten's employment. Mr. Kasten filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") in a Wisconsin federal district court alleging that he was retaliated against for filing complaints about the legality of the location of Saint- Gobain's time clocks. Mr. Kasten alleges that the location of the time clocks prevented employees from being paid for time spent donning and doffing their required protective gear. Saint-Gobain motioned for summary judgment arguing that purely verbal complaints, like those made by Mr. Kasten, were not protected activity under the FLSA. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the case. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that unwritten, purely verbal complaints are not protected activity under the FLSA.
The Fair Labor Standards Act protects employees from retaliation for complaining about violations of the statute. Does the protection apply only if the complaint is in writing?
Legal provision: Fair Labor Standards Act
No. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the lower court decision in an opinion by Justice Stephen G. Breyer. The majority held that the Fair Labor Standards Act applies to a complaint, whether oral or written. Justice Antonin Scalia filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. "The retaliation provision contemplates an official grievance filed with a court or an agency, not oral complaints—or even formal, written complaints — from an employee to an employer," Scalia argued. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the consideration of the case.
OPINION OF THE COURT
KASTEN V. SAINT-GOBAIN PERFORMANCE PLASTICS CORP.
563 U. S. ____ (2011)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
KEVIN KASTEN, PETITIONER v. SAINT-GOBAIN PERFORMANCE PLASTICS CORPORATION
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit
[March 22, 2011]
Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (Act) sets forth employment rules concerning minimum wages, maximum hours, and overtime pay. 52 Stat. 1060, 29 U. S. C. §201 et seq. The Act contains an antiretaliation provision that forbids employers
“to discharge or in any other 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 [the Act], or has testified or is about to testify in such proceeding, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee.” §215(a)(3) (emphasis added).
We must decide whether the statutory term “filed any complaint” includes oral as well as written complaints within its scope. We conclude that it does.
The petitioner, Kevin Kasten, brought this antiretaliation lawsuit against his former employer, Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation. Kasten says that Saint-Gobain located its timeclocks between the area where Kasten and other workers put on (and take off) their work-related protective gear and the area where they carry out their assigned tasks. That location prevented workers from receiving credit for the time they spent putting on and taking off their work clothes—contrary to the Act’s requirements. In a related suit the District Court agreed with Kasten, finding that Saint-Gobain’s “practice of not compensating … for time spent donning and doffing certain required protective gear and walking to work areas” violated the Act. Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 556 F. Supp. 2d 941, 954 (WD Wis. 2008). In this suit Kasten claims unlawful retaliation. He says that Saint-Gobain discharged him because he orally complained to Saint-Gobain officials about the timeclocks.
In particular, Kasten says that he repeatedly called the unlawful timeclock location to Saint-Gobain’s attention—in accordance with Saint-Gobain’s internal grievance-resolution procedure. See Brief for Petitioner 4 (quoting Saint-Gobain’s Code of Ethics and Business Conduct as imposing upon every employee “the responsibility to report … suspected violations of … any applicable law of which he or she becomes aware”); id., at 4–5 (quoting Saint-Gobain’s Employee Policy Handbook as instructing employees with “questions, complaints, and problems” to “[c]ontact” their “supervisor[s] immediately” and if necessary “take the issue to the next level of management,” then to the “local Human Resources Manager,” then to “Human Resources” personnel at the “Regional” or “Headquarters” level).
Kasten adds that he “raised a concern” with his shift supervisor that “it was illegal for the time clocks to be where they were” because of Saint-Gobain’s exclusion of “the time you come in and start doing stuff”; he told a human resources employee that “if they were to get challenged on” the location in court, “they would lose”; he told his lead operator that the location was illegal and that he “was thinking about starting a lawsuit about the placement of the time clocks”; and he told the human resources manager and the operations manager that he thought the location was illegal and that the company would “lose” in court. Record in No. 3:07–cv–00686–bbc (WD Wis.), Doc. 87–3, pp. 31–34 (deposition of Kevin Kasten). This activity, Kasten concludes, led the company to discipline him and, in December 2006, to dismiss him.
Saint-Gobain presents a different version of events. It denies that Kasten made any significant complaint about the timeclock location. And it says that it dismissed Kasten simply because Kasten, after being repeatedly warned, failed to record his comings and goings on the timeclock.
For present purposes we accept Kasten’s version of these contested events as valid. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U. S. 372, 380 (2007). That is because the District Court entered summary judgment in Saint-Gobain’s favor. 619 F. Supp. 2d 608, 610 (WD Wis. 2008). And it did so, not because it doubted Kasten’s ability to prove the facts he alleged, but because it thought the Act did not protect oral complaints. Id., at 611–613. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the District Court that the Act’s antiretaliation provision does not cover oral complaints. 570 F. 3d 834, 838–840 (2009).
Kasten sought certiorari. And in light of conflict among the Circuits as to whether an oral complaint is protected, we granted Kasten’s petition. Compare Hagan v. Echostar Satellite, L. L. C., 529 F. 3d 617, 625–626 (CA5 2008) (antiretaliation provision covers oral complaints); Lambert v. Ackerley, 180 F. 3d 997, 1007 (CA9 1999) (en banc) (same); with Lambert v. Genesee Hospital, 10 F. 3d 46, 55–56 (CA2 1993) (antiretaliation provision does not cover informal complaints to supervisors). See also Pacheco v. Whiting Farms, Inc., 365 F. 3d 1199, 1206 (CA10 2004) (antiretaliation provision covers unofficial assertion of rights); EEOC v. White & Son Enterprises, 881 F. 2d 1006, 1011–1012 (CA11 1989) (same); Moore v. Freeman, 355 F. 3d 558, 562–563 (CA6 2004) (assuming without discussion that oral complaints are covered); Brennan v. Maxey’s Yamaha, Inc., 513 F. 2d 179, 181 (CA8 1975) (same).
The sole question presented is whether “an oral complaint of a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act” is “protected conduct under the [Act’s] anti-retaliation provision.” Pet. for Cert. i. The Act protects employees who have “filed any complaint,” 29 U. S. C. §215(a)(3), and interpretation of this phrase “depends upon reading the whole statutory text, considering the purpose and context of the statute, and consulting any precedents or authorities that inform the analysis,” Dolan v. Postal Service, 546 U. S. 481, 486 (2006). This analysis leads us to conclude that the language of the provision, considered in isolation, may be open to competing interpretations. But considering the provision in conjunction with the purpose and context leads us to conclude that only one interpretation is permissible.
We begin with the text of the statute. The word “filed” has different relevant meanings in different contexts. Some dictionary definitions of the word contemplate a writing. See, e.g., Webster’s New International Dictionary 945 (2d ed. 1934) (def. 4(a)) (to file is to “deliver (a paper or instrument) to the proper officer so that it is received by him to be kept on file, or among the records of his office” (emphasis added)); Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 462 (1983) (def. 2(a)) (one definition of “file” is “to place among official records as prescribed by law”).
But other dictionaries provide different definitions that permit the use of the word “file” in conjunction with oral material. One can, for example, file an oral statement that enters a matter “into the order of business.” 1 Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language 920 (rev. ed. 1938) (def. 2) (to file is to “present in the regular way, as to a judicial or legislative body, so that it shall go upon the records or into the order of business”). This possibility is significant because it means that dictionary meanings, even if considered alone, do not necessarily limit the scope of the statutory phrase to written complaints. Cf. Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson Cty., 555 U. S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 5) (looking for the “limits” of a linguistic phrase rather than what “exemplif[ies]” its application).
In addition to the dictionary definitions, we have found that legislators, administrators, and judges have all sometimes used the word “file” in conjunction with oral statements. Thus state statutes sometimes contemplate oral filings. See, e.g., Alaska Stat. §47.32.090(a) (2008) (“file a verbal or written complaint”); Cal. Health & Safety Code Ann. §17055(a) (West 2006) (“file an administra- tive complaint orally or in writing”); D. C. Code §7–1231.12(a)(2)(B) (2001) (“filing his or her grievance, orally or in writing”); Ga. Code Ann. §§31–8–124(a), (c), 31–8–134(b) (2009) (“to file a grievance,” a person may “submit an oral or written complaint”); Ind. Code §27–8–28–14(a) (2009) (“file a grievance orally or in writing”); Me. Rev. Stat. Ann., Tit. 34–B, §5604(3)(B) (2009) (“filed through an oral request”); Miss. Code Ann. §69–47–23(4) (2005) (“file a written or oral complaint”); Mo. Rev. Stat. §198.088.3(3) (2009) (to have a complaint “filed,” a person “shall write or cause to be written his grievance or shall state it orally”); Nev. Rev. Stat. §§618.336(2)(a), 618.341(1)(a) (2009) (“oral or written complaint filed”); N. J. Stat. Ann. §30:4C–12 (West 2008) (“written or oral complaint may be filed”); N. Y. Ins. Law Ann. §§3217–a(a)(7), 4324(a)(7) (West 2006) (“file a grievance orally”); N. Y. Pub. Health Law Ann. §§4408(1)(g) (West Supp. 2010) (“file a grievance orally”); Pa. Stat. Ann., Tit. 40, §§991.2141(a)–(b) (Purdon 1999) (“file a … written or oral complaint”); Tex. Ins. Code Ann. §§1305.401(a)–(b) (West 2009) (“oral or written complaint” must be “file[d]”); Wash. Rev. Code §§90.64.030(3), (5) (2008) (“complaints have been filed … as the result of either an oral or a written complaint”).
Regulations promulgated by various federal agencies sometimes permit complaints to be filed orally. See, e.g., 32 CFR §842.20 (2010) (“[f]iling a claim” may proceed “orally or in writing”); 42 CFR §422.564(d)(1) (2009) (“file a grievance … either orally or in writing”); §423.564(d)(1) (same); §438.402(b)(3)(i) (“file a grievance either orally or in writing”); §494.180(e) (“file an oral or written grievance”); 49 CFR §1503.629(c) (2009) (“[f]iling of motions … must be in writing or orally on the record” (italics omitted)); 42 CFR §438.402(b)(3)(ii) (2009) (“file an appeal either orally or in writing”).
And a review of contemporaneous judicial usage, cf. Utah v. Evans, 536 U. S. 452, 475 (2002), shows that oral filings were a known phenomenon when the Act was passed. See, e.g., Reed Oil Co. v. Cain, 169 Ark. 309, 312, 275 S. W. 333, 334 (1925) (“appellee filed … an oral complaint”); Tingler v. Lahti, 87 W. Va. 499, 503, 105 S. E. 810, 812 (1921) (“complaint subsequently filed, either oral or written”); Ex parte Mosgrove, 47 Okla. Cr. 40, 287 P. 795 (1930) (only “complaint … filed against him” was “oral complaint of the town marshal”); Indian Fred v. State, 36 Ariz. 48, 52–53, 282 P. 930, 932 (1929) (“filed an oral motion to quash”); Dunn v. State, 60 Okla. Cr. 201, 203, 63 P. 2d 772, 773 (1936) (“filed an oral demurrer”); Morrison v. Lewis, 58 Ga. App. 677, 199 S. E. 782 (1938) (“filed an oral motion” demurring); Brock v. Cullum Bros., 263 S. W. 335 (Tex. Civ. App. 1924) (“filed an oral motion to quash”); Fike v. Allen, 269 S. W. 179, 180 (Tex. Civ. App. 1925) (“filed oral pleadings”).
Filings may more often be made in writing. See, e.g., Ritter v. United States, 28 F. 2d 265, 267 (CA3 1928) (finding words “file a claim for refund” to require a written request in context of tax code). 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 a broad interpretation that would include an oral complaint. See, e.g., Republic of Iraq v. Beaty, 556 U. S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 7). The upshot is that the three-word phrase, taken by itself, cannot answer the interpretive question.
We can look further to other appearances of the word “filed” in the Act. See MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. American Telephone & Telegraph Co., 512 U. S. 218, 226 (1994) (examining “contextual indications” of the meaning of a term). That word (or a variant) appears in numerous other provisions. But its appearance elsewhere in the Act does not resolve the linguistic question before us. Some of those other provisions (1) involve filed material that, unlike a complaint, is of a kind that is virtually always in writing. See, e.g., 29 U. S. C. §203(l) (employers must “have on file an unexpired certificate” (emphasis added)); §210(a) (Secretary must “file in the court the record of the industry committee” (emphasis added)); ibid. (industry committee must “file” its findings and recommendations). Others (2) specifically require a writing, see, e.g., §214(c)(5)(A) (requiring employee’s “consent in writing” to join collective action to be “filed” (emphasis added)); §216(b) (same). And the remainder (3) leave the oral/ written question unresolved—just as does the provision before us. See, e.g., §210(b) (prohibiting a stay unless movant “file[s] in court an undertaking” (emphasis added)); §214(c)(5)(A) (employee “may file … a petition” for review of a special wage rate (emphasis added)).
Looking beyond the Act, we find other statutes that contain antiretaliation provisions. Those statutes, however, use somewhat different language. See, e.g., §158(a)(4) (protecting an employee who has “filed charges or given testimony”); §623(d) (protecting those who “opposed any [unlawful] practice” (emphasis added)); 42 U. S. C. §§2000e–3(a), 12203(a) (same); 29 U. S. C. §2615(a)(2) (similar). See also, e.g., 15 U. S. C. §2087(a)(1) (2006 ed., Supp. III) (“provided … to the employer … information relating to any violation” (emphasis added)); §2651(a) (similar); 30 U. S. C. §815(c)(1) (“filed or made a complaint” (emphasis added)); 42 U. S. C. §5851(a)(1)(A) (“notified his employer” (emphasis added)); 49 U. S. C. §42121(a)(1) (“provided … information” (emphasis added)); §60129(a)(1) (same). Some of this language is broader than the phrase before us, but, given the fact that the phrase before us lends itself linguistically to the broader, “oral” interpretation, the use of broader language elsewhere may mean (1) that Congress wanted to limit the scope of the phrase before us to writings, or (2) that Congress did not believe the different phraseology made a significant difference in this respect. The language alone does not tell us whether Congress, if intending to protect orally expressed grievances elsewhere, did or did not intend to leave those oral grievances unprotected here.
The bottom line is that the text, taken alone, cannot provide a conclusive answer to our interpretive question. The phrase “filed any complaint” might, or might not, encompass oral complaints. We must look further.
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. §202(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”).
In the years prior to the passage of the Act, illiteracy rates were particularly high among the poor. See E. Gordon & E. Gordon, Literacy in America 273 (2003) (one-quarter of World War I conscripts were illiterate); Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, Population: The Labor Force (Sample Statistics): Occupational Characteristics 60 (1943) (20.8% of manufacturing laborers in 1940 had less than five years of schooling). Those rates remained high in certain industries for many years after the Act’s passage. In 1948, for example, the National War Labor Board wrote:
“In many plants where there is a high degree of illiteracy, the writing of grievances by employees works a substantial hardship. In other plants where there is considerable dirt and special clothes must be worn, it is often not practicable to write up grievances during work hours.” 1 The Termination Report of the National War Labor Board, p. 122.
To limit the scope of the antiretaliation provision to the filing of written complaints would also take needed flexibility from those charged with the Act’s enforcement. It could prevent Government agencies from using hotlines, interviews, and other oral methods of receiving complaints. And insofar as the antiretaliation provision covers complaints made to employers (a matter we need not decide, see infra, at 14–15), it would discourage the use of desirable informal workplace grievance procedures to secure compliance with the Act. Cf. Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U. S. 742, 764 (1998) (reading Title VII to encourage the development of effective grievance procedures to deter misconduct); D. McPherson, C. Gates, & K. Rogers, Resolving Grievances: A Practical Approach 38–40 (1983) (describing the significant benefits of unwritten complaints).
Given the need for effective enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), this Court has broadly interpreted the language of the NLRA’s antiretaliation provision—“filed charges or given testimony,” 29 U. S. C. §158(a)(4)—as protecting workers who neither filed charges nor were “called formally to testify” but simply “participate[d] in a [National Labor Relations] Board investigation.” NLRB v. Scrivener, 405 U. S. 117, 123 (1972) (emphasis added). The similar enforcement needs of this related statute argue for an interpretation of the word “complaint” that would provide “broad rather than narrow protection to the employee,” id., at 122 (and would do so here without pressing statutory language to its limit). See also Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. Muscoda Local No. 123, 321 U. S. 590, 597 (1944) (the Act’s “remedial and humanitarian … purpose” cautions against “narrow, grudging” interpretations of its language).
Saint-Gobain replies that worker protection is not the only relevant statutory objective. The Act also seeks to establish an enforcement system that is fair to employers. To do so, the employer must have fair notice that an employee is making a complaint that could subject the employer to a later claim of retaliation. If oral complaints suffice, Saint-Gobain adds, employers too often will be left in a state of uncertainty about whether an employee (particularly an employee who seems unusually angry at the moment) is in fact making a complaint about an Act violation or just letting off steam.
We agree with Saint-Gobain that the statute requires fair notice. Although the dictionary definitions, statutes, regulations, and judicial opinions we considered, see supra, at 4–7, do not distinguish between writings and oral statements, they do suggest that a “filing” is a serious occasion, rather than a triviality. As such, the phrase “filed any complaint” contemplates some degree of formality, certainly to the point where the recipient has been given fair notice that a grievance has been lodged and does, or should, reasonably understand the matter as part of its business concerns.
Moreover, the statute prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee “because such employee has filed any complaint.” §215(a)(3) (emphasis added). And it is difficult to see how an employer who does not (or should not) know an employee has made a complaint could discriminate because of that complaint. But we also believe that a fair notice requirement does not necessarily mean that notice must be in writing.
At oral argument, the Government said that a complaint is “filed” when “a reasonable, objective person would have understood the employee” to have “put the employer on notice that [the] employee is asserting statutory rights under the [Act].” Tr. of Oral Arg. 23, 26. We agree. To fall within the scope of the antiretaliation provision, a complaint must be sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by the statute and a call for their protection. This standard can be met, however, by oral complaints, as well as by written ones.
Second, given Congress’ delegation of enforcement powers to federal administrative agencies, we also give a degree of weight to their views about the meaning of this enforcement language. See 29 U. S. C. §216(c) (vesting enforcement power in Secretary of Labor); Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978, 5 U. S. C. App. §1, p. 664 (transferring to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforcement of this antiretaliation provision as part of its Equal Pay Act enforcement responsibilities); Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U. S. 134, 140 (1944) (giving weight to a persuasive articulation of views within an agency’s area of expertise).
The Secretary of Labor has consistently held the view that the words “filed any complaint” cover oral, as well as written, complaints. The Department of Labor articulated that view in an enforcement action filed many years ago, Goldberg v. Zenger, 43 CCH LC ¶31,155, pp. 40,985, 40,986 (D Utah 1961). It has subsequently reaffirmed that view in briefs. See, e.g., Brief for Secretary of Labor as Amicus Curiae Supporting Petition for Rehearing with Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc in Lambert v. Ackerley, No. 96–36017 etc. (CA9), pp. 6–7. And more recently it has acted in accordance with that view by creating a hotline to receive oral complaints, see Dept. of Labor, Compliance Assistance By Law—The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), http://www.dol.gov/compliance/laws/comp-flsa.htm (as visited Mar. 18, 2011, and available in Clerk of Court’s case file) (directing participants who wish to “file a complaint” to contact a local office “or call the Department’s Toll-Free Wage and Hour Help Line at 1–866–4–US–WAGE”).
The EEOC has set forth a similar view in its Compliance Manual, Vol. 2, §8–II(B)(1), p. 8–3, and n. 12 (1998), and in multiple briefs, see, e.g., Brief for EEOC as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petition for Rehearing with Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc in Lambert v. Ackerley, No. 96–36017 etc. (CA9), pp. 8–13; Brief for Appellee in EEOC v. White & Son Enterprises, Inc., No. 88–7658 (CA11), pp. 29–30.
These agency views are reasonable. They are consistent with the Act. The length of time the agencies have held them suggests that they reflect careful consideration, not “post hoc rationalizatio[n].” Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Assn. of United States, Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Automobile Ins. Co., 463 U. S. 29, 50 (1983). And they consequently add force to our conclusion. Skidmore, supra, at 140; cf. United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U. S. 218, 229, 234–235 (2001) (Court sometimes finds judicial deference intended even in absence of rulemaking authority); Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter, Communities for Great Ore., 515 U. S. 687, 703–704, and n. 18 (1995) (agency views, where the law counsels deference, can clarify otherwise ambiguous statutory provisions).
Finally, we note that Saint-Gobain invokes the “rule of lenity” in support of its “written complaint” interpretation. That rule applies primarily to the interpretation of criminal statutes. It leads us to favor a more lenient interpretation of a criminal statute “when, after consulting traditional canons of statutory construction, we are left with an ambiguous statute.” United States v. Shabani, 513 U. S. 10, 17 (1994). We agree with Saint-Gobain that those who violate the antiretaliation provision before us are subject to criminal sanction, 29 U. S. C. §216(a). And we have said that the rule of lenity can apply when a statute with criminal sanctions is applied in a noncriminal context. See Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U. S. 1, 11, n. 8 (2004). But after engaging in traditional methods of statutory interpretation, we cannot find that the statute remains sufficiently ambiguous to warrant application of the rule of lenity here.
Alternatively, Saint-Gobain claims that it should prevail because Kasten complained to a private employer, not to the Government; and, in Saint-Gobain’s view, the antiretaliation provision applies only to complaints filed with the Government. Saint-Gobain advanced this claim in the lower courts, which held to the contrary. 570 F. 3d, at 837–838; 619 F. Supp. 2d, at 613. But Saint-Gobain said nothing about it in response to Kasten’s petition for certiorari. Indeed, it did not mention the claim in this Court until it filed its brief on the merits.
We do not normally consider a separate legal question not raised in the certiorari briefs. See this Court’s Rule 15.2; Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U. S. 61, 75, n. 13 (1996). We see no reason to make an exception here. Resolution of the Government/private employer question is not a “ ‘ “predicate to an intelligent resolution” ’ ” of the oral/written question that we granted certiorari to decide. See ibid. (quoting Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U. S. 33, 38 (1996)). That is to say, we can decide the oral/written question separately—on its own. And we have done so. Thus, we state no view on the merits of Saint-Gobain’s alternative claim. Cf. post, at 1–5 (Scalia, J., dissenting).
* * *
We conclude that the Seventh Circuit erred in determining that oral complaints cannot fall within the scope of the phrase “filed any complaint” in the Act’s antiretaliation provision. We leave it to the lower courts to decide whether Kasten will be able to satisfy the Act’s notice requirement. We vacate the Circuit’s judgment and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
SCALIA, J., DISSENTING
KASTEN V. SAINT-GOBAIN PERFORMANCE PLASTICS CORP.
563 U. S. ____ (2011)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
KEVIN KASTEN, PETITIONER v. SAINT-GOBAIN PERFORMANCE PLASTICS CORPORATION
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the seventh circuit
[March 22, 2011]
Justice Scalia, with whom Justice Thomas joins as to all but footnote 6, dissenting.
The Seventh Circuit found for the employer because it held that the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA), 29 U. S. C. §215(a)(3), covers only written complaints to the employer. I would affirm the judgment on the ground that §215(a)(3) does not cover complaints to the employer at all.
The FLSA’s retaliation provision states that it shall be unlawful
“to discharge or in any other 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, or has served or is about to serve on an industry committee.” Ibid.
The phrase central to the outcome here is “filed any complaint.” In the courts below, Kasten asserted a claim for retaliation based solely on allegations that he “filed” oral “complaints” with his employer; Saint-Gobain argued that the retaliation provision protects only complaints that are (1) in writing, and (2) made to judicial or administrative bodies. I agree with at least the second part of Saint-Gobain’s contention. The plain meaning of the critical phrase and the context in which appears make clear that the retaliation provision contemplates an official grievance filed with a court or an agency, not oral complaints—or even formal, written complaints—from an employee to an employer.
In isolation, the word “complaint” could cover Kasten’s objection: It often has an expansive meaning, connoting any “[e]xpression of grief, regret, pain … or resentment.” Webster’s New International Dictionary 546 (2d ed. 1934) (hereinafter Webster’s). But at the time the FLSA was passed (and still today) the word when used in a legal context has borne a specialized meaning: “[a] formal allegation or charge against a party, made or presented to the appropriate court or officer.” Ibid. See also Cambridge Dictionary of American English 172 (2000) (“a formal statement to a government authority that you have a legal cause to complain about the way you have been treated”); 3 Oxford English Dictionary 608 (2d ed. 1989) (“[a] statement or injury or grievance laid before a court or judicial authority … for purposes of prosecution or of redress”).
There are several reasons to think that the word bears its specialized meaning here. First, every other use of the word “complaint” in the FLSA refers to an official filing with a governmental body. Sections 216(b) and (c) both state that the right to bring particular types of actions “shall terminate upon the filing of a complaint” by the Secretary of Labor, and §216(c) clarifies that the statute of limitations begins running in actions to recover unpaid wages “on the date when the complaint is filed.” These provisions unquestionably use “complaint” in the narrow legal sense. Identical words used in different parts of a statute are presumed to have the same meaning absent contrary indication, IBP, Inc. v. Alvarez, 546 U. S. 21, 34 (2005); Sullivan v. Stroop, 496 U. S. 478, 484 (1990). It is one thing to expand the meaning of “complaint” in §215(a)(3) to include complaints filed with an agency instead of a court; it is quite something else to wrench it from the legal context entirely, to include an employee’s objection to an employer.
Second, the word “complaint” appears as part of the phrase “filed any complaint” and thus draws meaning from the verb with which it is connected. The choice of the word “filed” rather than a broader alternative like “made,” if it does not connote (as the Seventh Circuit believed, and as I need not consider) something in writing, at least suggests a degree of formality consistent with legal action and inconsistent (at least in the less regulated work environment of 1938) with employee-to-employer complaints. It is noteworthy that every definition of the verb “filed” that the Court’s opinion provides, whether it supports the inclusion of oral content or not, envisions a formal, prescribed process of delivery or submission. Ante, at 4–5 (comparing, for example, Webster’s 945 (to file is to “deliver (a paper or instrument) to the proper officer”) with 1 Funk & Wagnalls New Standard Dictionary of the English Language 920 (rev. ed. 1938) (to file is to “present in the regular way, as to a judicial or legislative body”)).
Moreover, “[t]he law uses familiar legal expressions in their familiar legal sense,” Henry v. United States, 251 U. S. 393, 395 (1920). It is, I suppose, possible to speak of “filing a complaint” with an employer, but that is assuredly not common usage. Thus, when the antiretaliation provision of the Mine Health and Safety Act used that phrase in a context that includes both complaints to an agency and complaints to the employer, it did not use “filed” alone, but supplemented that with “or made”—and to boot specified “including a complaint notifying the [mine] operator … of an alleged danger or safety or health violation … .” 30 U. S. C. §815(c)(1).[Footnote 1]
Third, the phrase “filed any complaint” appears alongside three other protected activities: “institut[ing] or caus[ing] to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter,” “testif[ying] in any such proceeding,” and “serv[ing] … on an industry committee.”[Footnote 2] 29 U. S. C. §215(a)(3). Since each of these three activities involves an interaction with governmental authority, we can fairly attribute this characteristic to the phrase “filed any complaint” as well. “That several items in a list share an attribute counsel in favor of interpreting the other items as possessing that attribute as well.” Beecham v. United States, 511 U. S. 368, 371 (1994).
And finally, the 1938 version of the FLSA, while creating private rights of action for other employer violations, see §16(b), 52 Stat. 1069, did not create a private right of action for retaliation. That was added in 1977, see §10, 91 Stat. 1252. Until then, only the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor could enforce the retaliation provision. See §11(a), 52 Stat. 1066. It would seem more strange to require the employee to go to the Administrator to establish, and punish retaliation for, his intracompany complaint, than to require the Administrator-protected complaint to be filed with the Administrator in the first place.[Footnote 3]
The meaning of the phrase “filed any complaint” is clear in light of its context, and there is accordingly no need to rely on abstractions of congressional purpose. Nevertheless, Kasten argues that protecting intracompany complaints best accords with the purpose of the FLSA—“to assure fair compensation to covered employees”—because such purposes are “advanced when internal complaints lead to voluntary compliance.” Reply Brief for Petitioner 18. But no legislation pursues its ends at all costs. Rodriguez v. United States, 480 U. S. 522, 525–526 (1987) (per curiam). Congress may not have protected intracompany complaints for the same reason it did not provide a private cause of action for retaliation against complaints: because it was unwilling to expose employers to the litigation, or to the inability to dismiss unsatisfactory workers, which that additional step would entail. Limitation of the retaliation provision to agency complaints may have been an attempt “to achieve the benefits of regulation right up to the point where the costs of further benefits exceed the value of those benefits.” Easterbrook, Statutes’ Domains, 50 U. Chi. L. Rev. 533, 541 (1983).
In deciding whether an oral complaint may be “filed,” the Court’s opinion examines modern state and federal statutes, which presumably cover complaints filed with an employer. The only relevance of these provisions to whether the FLSA covers such complaints is that none of them achieves that result by use of the term “filed any complaint,” and all of them use language that unmistakably includes complaints to employers. See, e.g., 42 U. S. C. §2000e–3(a) (prohibiting retaliation against employees who “oppos[e] any [unlawful] practice”). Any suggestion that because more recent statutes cover intracompany complaints, a provision adopted in the 1938 Act should be deemed to do so is unacceptable. While the jurisprudence of this Court has sometimes sanctioned a “living Constitution,” it has never approved a living United States Code. What Congress enacted in 1938 must be applied according to its terms, and not according to what a modern Congress (or this Court) would deem desirable.[Footnote 4]
Kasten argues that this Court should defer to the Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) interpretations of 29 U. S. C. §215(a)(3). He claims that those agencies have construed §215(a)(3) to protect intracompany complaints “[f]or almost half a century,” in litigating positions and enforcement actions. Reply Brief for Petitioner 22. He also argues that although the Department of Labor lacks the authority to issue regulations implementing §215(a)(3), it has such authority for several similarly worded provisions and has interpreted those statutes to include intracompany complaints. Id., at 20.
Even were §215(a)(3) ambiguous, deference would still be unwarranted. If we are to apply our new jurisprudence that deference is appropriate only when Congress has given the agency authority to make rules carrying the force of law, see Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U. S. 243, 255–256 (2006), deference is improper here. The EEOC has no such authority. Although the Secretary of Labor and his subordinates have authority to issue regulations under various provisions of the FLSA, see, e.g., §203(l); §206(a)(2), they have no general authority to issue regulations interpreting the Act, and no specific authority to issue regulations interpreting §215(a)(3).
Presumably for this reason, the Court’s opinion seems to suggest that only so-called Skidmore deference is appropriate, see Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U. S. 134, 140 (1944).[Footnote 5] This doctrine states that agencies’ views are “ ‘entitled to respect’ ” to the extent they have “ ‘the power to persuade.’ ” Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U. S. 576, 587 (2000) (quoting Skidmore, supra, at 140).[Footnote 6] For the reasons stated above, the agencies’ views here lack the “power to persuade.”
The Court’s opinion claims that whether §215(a)(3) covers intracompany complaints is not fairly included in the question presented because the argument, although raised below, was not made in Saint-Gobain’s response to Kasten’s petition for certiorari. Citing this Court’s Rule 15.2 and Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U. S. 61, 75, n. 13 (1996), the opinion says that this Court does “not normally consider a separate legal question not raised in the certiorari briefs.” Ante, at 15.
It regularly does so, however, under the circumstances that obtain here. (Curiously enough, Caterpillar, the case cited by the Court, was one instance.) Rule 15.2 is permissive rather than mandatory: “Any objection to consideration of a question presented based on what occurred in the proceedings below … may be deemed waived unless called to the Court’s attention in the brief in opposition.” (Emphasis added.) Accordingly, the Court has often permitted parties to defend a judgment on grounds not raised in the brief in opposition when doing so is “predicate to an intelligent resolution of the question presented, and therefore fairly included therein.” Ohio v. Robinette, 519 U. S. 33, 38 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Vance v. Terrazas, 444 U. S. 252, 258–259, n. 5 (1980).
Kasten’s petition for certiorari phrases the question presented as follows: “Is an oral complaint of a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act protected conduct under the anti-retaliation provision, 29 U. S. C. §215(a)(3)?” Pet. for Cert. i. Surely the word “complaint” in this question must be assigned an implied addressee. It presumably does not include a complaint to Judge Judy. And the only plausible addressee, given the facts of this case, is the employer. Saint-Gobain’s rewording of the question presented in its brief in opposition is even more specific: “Has an employee alleging solely that he orally asserted objections to his employer … ‘filed any complaint’ within the meaning of [§215(a)(3)].” Brief in Opposition i (emphasis added). Moreover, under this Court’s Rule 14.1(a), the question presented is “deemed to comprise every subsidiary question fairly included therein.” Whether intracompany complaints are protected is at least subsidiary to Kasten’s formulation (and explicitly included in Saint-Gobain’s). The question was also decided by the courts below and was briefed before this Court. It is not clear what benefit additional briefing would provide.
Moreover, whether §215(a)(3) covers intracompany complaints is “predicate to an intelligent resolution of the question presented” in this case. The Court’s own opinion demonstrates the point. While claiming that it remains an open question whether intracompany complaints are covered, the opinion adopts a test for “filed any complaint” that assumes a “yes” answer—and that makes no sense otherwise. An employee, the Court says, is deemed to have “filed [a] complaint” only when “ ‘a reasonable, objective person would have understood the employee’ to have ‘put the employer on notice that the employee is asserting statutory rights under the [Act].” Ante, at 12 (quoting Tr. of Oral Arg. 23, 26). This utterly atextual standard is obviously designed to counter the argument of Saint-Gobain, that if oral complaints are allowed, “employers too often will be left in a state of uncertainty about whether an employee … is in fact making a complaint … or just letting off steam.” Ante, at 11. Of course, if intracompany complaints were excluded, this concern would be nonexistent: Filing a complaint with a judicial or administrative body is quite obviously an unambiguous assertion of one’s rights. There would be no need for lower courts to question whether a complaint is “sufficiently clear and de-tailed,” ante, at 12, carries the requisite “degree of formality,” ante, at 11, or provides “fair notice,” ibid., whatever those terms may require.
The test the Court adopts amply disproves its contention that “we can decide the oral/written question separately,” ante, at 15. And it makes little sense to consider that question at all in the present case if neither oral nor written complaints to employers are protected, cf. United States v. Grubbs, 547 U. S. 90, 94, n. 1 (2006). This Court should not issue an advisory opinion as to what would have been the scope of a retaliation provision covering complaints to employers if Congress had enacted such a provision.Footnote 1
Kasten and this Court’s opinion, ante, at 7, argue that the use of the modifier “any” in the phrase “filed any complaint” suggests that Con- gress meant to define the word “complaint” expansively. Not so. The modifier “any” does not cause a word that is in context narrow to become broad. The phrase “to cash a check at any bank” does not refer to a river bank, or even a blood bank.Footnote 2
Section 5 of the original FLSA, which has since been repealed, charged industry committees with recommending minimum wages for certain industries to the Department of Labor. 52 Stat. 1062. In order to perform this function, industry committees were empowered, among other things, to “hear … witnesses” and “receive … evidence.” §8(b), id., at 1064.Footnote 3
Kasten argues that excluding intracompany complaints would make the phrases “filed any complaint” and “instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding” redundant. That is not so. An employee may file a complaint with the Administrator that does not result in a proceeding, or has not yet done so when the employer takes its retaliatory action.Footnote 4
Moreover, if the substance of the retaliation provision of any other Act could shed light upon what Congress sought to achieve in the FLSA, it would be the relatively contemporaneous provision of the National Labor Relations Act, §8(4), 49 Stat. 453, codified at 29 U. S. C. §158(a)(4), which did not cover retaliation for employee-employer complaints. See NLRB v. Scrivener, 405 U. S. 117 (1972).Footnote 5
Or perhaps not. The actual quantum of deference measured out by the Court’s opinion is unclear—seemingly intentionally so. The Court says that it is giving “a degree of weight” to the Secretary and EEOC’s views “given Congress’ delegation of enforcement powers to federal administrative agencies.” Ante, at 12. But it never explicitly states the level of deference applied, and includes a mysterious citation of United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U. S. 218 (2001), along with a parenthetical saying that “sometimes … judicial deference [is] intended even in [the] absence of rulemaking authority.” Ante, at 13. I say this is mysterious because Mead clearly held that rulemaking authority was necessary for full Chevron deference, see Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U. S. 837 (1984). I have chosen to interpret the Court as referring to Skidmore deference, rather than Chevron deference or something in-between, in order to minimize the Court’s ongoing obfuscation of this once-clear area of administrative law. See Mead, supra, at 245 (Scalia, J., dissenting).Footnote 6
In my view this doctrine (if it can be called that) is incoherent, both linguistically and practically. To defer is to subordinate one’s own judgment to another’s. If one has been persuaded by another, so that one’s judgment accords with the other’s, there is no room for deferral—only for agreement. Speaking of “Skidmore deference” to a persuasive agency position does nothing but confuse.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF JAMES H. KASTER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: We will hear argument next in Case 09-834, Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corporation.
Mr. Kaster: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
When Kevin Kasten told his employer that the location of the time clocks was illegal and that if they were taken to the court they would lose, he filed any complaint within the meaning of the 215(a)(3) under the Fair Labor Standards Act, because filing includes an oral communication, because "any" means any, which includes formal or informal, written or unwritten communications.
And the words in the statute were designed to have a broad construction under section 2 of the statute 202 and under Mitchell v. DeMario and the Tennessee Coal case.
I would like to begin with the Tennessee Coal case, Tennessee Coal v. Muscoda.
The Court interpreted "work" in a broad fashion to include the time in a mine when workers were moving from one place to another, not actually engaged in physical labor.
In interpreting work that way, the Court said that the act is not to be interpreted in a narrow, grudging fashion.
Justice Samuel Alito: Let me give you this example.
Suppose a company has an established policy that if you want to make a complaint, there's a particular supervisor you should go to.
And let's say they say you can make this complaint in writing, you can make it orally.
Now, there's -- something's going on in the workplace and the supervisor happens to be walking by, maybe a machine is broken, an employee has been hurt, and an employee walks up to the supervisor who is walking briskly by, taps the supervisor on the shoulder and says the company is violating the Fair Labor Standards Act because of the placement of a clock.
You said that filing has no formality requirement.
Would that be the filing of a complaint?
Mr. Kaster: I think it would, Your Honor.
I don't think that the fact that the employer has a policy that says you do it on Tuesday morning would control what the statute says one way or the other, so I think it would constitute a filing.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So you mean that if the Government says you've got to file a complaint with us by either calling us or submitting something in writing, and at a cocktail party a worker goes up to a Government employee in that agency, and says, you know, my company is violating the law.
That that's enough?
Mr. Kaster: I don't -- you know, I don't believe that that's -- in the context of a non-work environment, Your Honor, I would note that, I don't know exactly the answer to the Court's question, to be honest.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: The reason I'm asking that question is related to Justice Alito's question, which is, what does filing a complaint mean?
Does it have to be relative to the procedures adopted by the person that you are reporting this to?
Mr. Kaster: Filing means directing it to somebody who can do something about it.
And it doesn't necessarily have to be.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Well, at a cocktail party that employee may be there on personal time, but when he goes back to work the next morning he could do something.
Is that enough?
Mr. Kaster: Well, it may be.
If it's directed towards the responsible party, then it would be filing a complaint.
So it could occur outside of work--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So what you are doing is he is estopping the Government from saying, the only way that you can file a complaint with us is to do it in writing.
We are now forcing the Government to adopt an oral procedure even if it chose not to?
Even if it thought an oral procedure would create havoc, et cetera, et cetera?
Mr. Kaster: --If the person is directing the complaint to the Government and communicates that to the responsible party who can do something about it, I think that they are filing a complaint, Your Honor.
Justice Samuel Alito: It's one thing to say that filing doesn't necessarily mean that something is written, although that's usually what the word means, isn't it?
Mr. Kaster: It can often mean a written communication.
Justice Samuel Alito: Are you filing your comments right now?
Mr. Kaster: I think I am, Your Honor.
Justice Samuel Alito: You are?
Mr. Kaster: I am directing them to the Court.
Justice Samuel Alito: That's the ordinary usage of the word.
But to say that it includes no degree of formality, that's your argument?
Mr. Kaster: Well, Your Honor, I would say there are no formal requirements for the filing.
Justice Samuel Alito: If that's the law and the employee gets fired and the employee says, well, this was done in retaliation for my having filed an FSLA complaint three weeks ago, and the employer says what complaint?
We have no record of any such complaint and the employee says, oh, yes, I said it orally to a supervisor who was passing by and my buddy Joe was there and he's going to corroborate this.
So now we have a trial about whether a complaint was filed?
Mr. Kaster: You might have a trial, Your Honor, depending on the circumstances.
There might be one.
The thing is that that's no different from any other retaliation case.
They are trying to establish an exception to the rule that retaliation occurs in verbal forms.
The communication, the underlying protective conduct occurs in verbal forms all the time.
They are trying to establish the exception here.
And I would note that even under the National Labor Relations Act in Scrivener, filing charges includes the verbal communications that are antecedents, the predicates to filing a charge.
Justice Samuel Alito: With whom?
Mr. Kaster: With the responsible party who can do something about it.
I would note also, Your Honor--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Well--
Mr. Kaster: --that Kevin Kasten doesn't have an office.
In terms of the formality of communication, there is discussion about the fact that this occurred in a hallway outside of the place where they walked in and out of the factory.
He doesn't have an office.
That's where he communicates with people.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Why do you feel the need to go beyond, say, what the AFL-CIO identifies as a normal oral failing -- filing?
They use language like, at the initial stage of the grievance procedure, there is confrontation with an eye to fact finding, and the dispute is joined when the employee or the steward or supervisor come face-to-face to identify, to discuss, and hopefully to resolve a problem.
Now that's a formal kind of relationship.
It doesn't involve a cocktail party, and yet it is done orally.
And there is a tradition as to how that works.
But from you've said, I gather that you want to go well beyond that and provide that cocktail parties -- perhaps not cocktail parties, but just a tap on the shoulder would be sufficient, where I take it that would normally be sufficient in the grievance process.
Mr. Kaster: The grievance process, Your Honor, a grievance process is a formal process, and so I wouldn't compare the average workplace--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: All right.
Suppose I think that that provides a good precedent for -- for oral filings.
What happens then?
What am I supposed to do in your case?
Mr. Kaster: --Your Honor, in the general proposition we would be accepting of the Scrivener rule that the Court adopted in the '70s, that is that the filing of a charge includes those things that happened orally prior to and around the time of the filing of the charge.
That's what this is about.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Yes, we are talking about a filing.
In the grievance process -- I don't want to repeat it, but it seems to me form having read the brief that filing takes place without writing, provided that there are these other safeguards which are described.
Now, I want to know in your opinion, is there a reason for not importing that into this system?
I take it you win the case -- or maybe you lose it, I don't know how it works on the fact.
I don't know what the filing was.
Mr. Kaster: In terms of the formality of requirements, the Court may adopt formal requirements.
The employer certainly did, Mr. Kasten followed those.
What I am looking at are the words of the statute that cover normally--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: There is a word "filing" in the AFL-CIO statute as well.
So I am looking for a way of interpreting the one in light of the other.
Do you favor that?
Are you against that?
If so, why or why not?
Mr. Kaster: --In terms of the procedure that they adopt, Your Honor, that may be an acceptable procedure.
The thing that I am looking at is the statutory language in the case.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: And there wasn't -- he didn't invoke the grievance procedure.
Mr. Kaster: He didn't--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: In this case, he didn't invoke the grievance procedure.
Mr. Kaster: --That's correct, Your Honor.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: So that would keep you out, if that were the test, that you have to formally invoke the grievance procedure.
But we are told that every other time the word "file" is used in this Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, it refers to a writing.
And so you are urging a meaning that deviates from the standard meaning of the term in the very Act at issue.
Mr. Kaster: I don't think I am doing that, Your Honor, with all due respect.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Is there another provision where the word file is used to mean something other than a writing.
Mr. Kaster: It means, according to the first enforcement action back in 1961, it means submit or lodge, Your Honor.
I would note that the defendant's own policies use it to describe a verbal communication by protecting against retaliation for somebody who has filed a complaint for sexual harassment.
They have used it in a manner that -- as an example to obviously include both verbal and written communications.
I would note there was a procedure in place here, Your Honor, that was the policy manual.
This -- there was no grievance procedure for Mr. Kasten.
He did not have a--
Justice Antonin Scalia: --That's -- that's the problem.
I mean, you can talk about a grievance procedure.
I suppose there's always one in -- in companies that -- that are unionized, but an awful lot of companies aren't.
Your -- the -- the Respondent is -- is going to argue that this statute doesn't apply to private filings of complaints anyway, that it relates only to the filing of a complaint with the government.
And that -- that's a new -- a new point in this case, and normally I would not be disposed to consider it.
My problem is, I cannot decide on -- on the question of whether filing means filing only in writing or also includes verbal filing, without resolving that other question.
That is to say, if indeed the complaint has to be quote, "filed" with the government, I'm inclined to think that an oral complaint pursuant to procedures established by the agency which permit an oral complaint, even a complaint by telephone that would be okay.
But my goodness, if it applies to private employers as well including employers that have no grievance procedures, including employers who have employees who go to cocktail parties, I am -- I am very disinclined to think that it -- that it could mean an oral complaint in -- in that context.
Mr. Kaster: --Your Honor, I'm just looking at the statutory language -- file "any complaint".
It's important -- the word "any" has a particular meaning.
I would not that if--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: What does file -- what is the meaning of "filed"?
Mr. Kaster: --It means to submit or lodge, Your Honor.
Justice Antonin Scalia: So you are filing your argument right now.
Now come on, people don't talk like that.
Mr. Kaster: I think--
Justice Antonin Scalia: That -- that -- that is absurd.
You are not filing an argument right now.
Nobody uses the language that way.
Mr. Kaster: --If I submit or lodge, that is the -- and it's directed at a particular -- I have to be asserting a statutory right.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: Well, I'd like to go back to the question--
Mr. Kaster: I am not asserting--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: --I would like to go back to the question Justice Scalia filed just earlier.
What -- what would you say about his point that it seems to me had substantial merit?
It -- it's really our determination -- our interpretation of what filing means might well depend on whether filing in -- or a complaint includes intracompany complaints, the grumbling of an employee and so forth; and I recognize this -- this argument comes up late.
Has it been addressed in any of the other circuits?
Mr. Kaster: --Yes, Your Honor.
There has been -- a number of the circuits have interpreted this statute and included -- the Ninth Circuit, the First Circuit, the Tenth Circuit have all--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: All have said that intracompany complaints--
Mr. Kaster: --Intracompany complaints; that is true as well in the Sixth Circuit.
And it's easier to talk about the cases where that hasn't been true -- in Memphis Barbecue, the Fourth Circuit; in Genesee Hospital, the Second Circuit.
Memphis -- the Memphis Barbecue case really addresses the testimonial clause.
Genesee Hospital is the only case in the Second Circuit where they have held that all complaints need to go to the Department of Labor.
The one thing I would say about that particular argument, Your Honor.
Is it makes superfluous instituted proceeding.
It makes superfluous instituted proceeding which -- or cause to be instituted.
If you file a complaint -- it -- then -- with the Department of Labor, their argument is, and I think it's true, that you institute a proceeding.
So the statute would be redundant, and "file any complaint" would cover a null set.
Justice Antonin Scalia: I'm not sure that's true.
You -- you can complain orally to somebody at the Labor Department who decides that the complaint isn't serious enough to -- to warrant commencing a proceeding.
I mean, if you go in and insist, I -- you know, I want to begin a proceeding, that's -- that's something else.
But you can file a complaint orally without -- without doing that, it seems to me.
Mr. Kaster: Well, Your Honor, if you have made the phone call and started the process I think you have instituted a proceeding.
Now whether it gets -- at what stage of formality it gets to, I'm not sure, Your Honor, but I think you have begun the process of instituting a proceeding or causing it to be instituted.
The other thing I--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Not if it's never instituted.
Not if it's never instituted.
If no proceeding is ever instituted, you can hardly be accused of having caused a proceeding to be instituted.
Mr. Kaster: --There's a--
Justice Antonin Scalia: So if you make an informal complaint and it doesn't go any further, and they ask --
"You know, do you want to -- No, I don't want to start a proceeding, but -- but this company is just, you know, it's acting improperly, you guys ought to look into that. "
That's -- I'm 00 I'm prepared to say that's filing a complaint, if you are only talking about filing complaint with the government.
But if you are talking about oral filings of the complaints with employer, I am very troubled.
Mr. Kaster: --Well, Your Honor, I'm going to reserve the rest of my time for rebuttal.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF JEFFREY B. WALL, ON BEHALF OF THE UNITED STATES, AS AMICUS CURIAE, SUPPORTING PETITIONER
Mr. Wall: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
A number of the Court's questions are focusing on some of the practical difficulties here.
The Government wants to start by pointing out there are a number of statutes, 20 or more, that have similar anti-retaliation provisions.
Most of those statutes cover all the complaints, either because Congress has said so in administering, agencies have said so or the courts have said so.
And the kind of practical difficulties that the court is raising have not proven unworkable under any statutory schemes.
The Respondent can't point to a single other statute addressing these kinds -- this labor context that has been narrowed -- excuse me -- to cover only oral complaints.
Justice Antonin Scalia: This is one of the oldest, though, isn't it.
Mr. Wall: --Yes.
I mean, it--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Is it the very oldest?
It may well be the very oldest.
You are talking about a really old fogey Congress that -- that passed this thing.
Mr. Wall: --Justice Scalia, it's not the older.
It was model on the NLRA, which is even older.
For instance, the NLRB has found that if, you know, employees are complaining to each other, that they can't be discharged under the NLRA's anti-retaliation provision, or if an employee orally says to his employer, I'm about to go to the Board and tell them you are doing something unlawful, the Board has said you can't be discharged.
Justice Antonin Scalia: What -- what is the language in those statutes?
All those statutes use the language "file a complaint"?
Mr. Wall: The language in the NLRA is "file charges" or "give testimony".
So, instead of filing a complaint, it says "file charges".
But the language in many of these statutes, and they are cited in all of the briefs, is extremely similar.
They refer to filing complaints or charges, instituting proceedings.
As you pointed--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Are you -- you -- are you urging that if you just tell a coworker, that that's enough?
I thought the whole idea is to give the employer notice that something is amiss.
So, how would telling a coworker serve that purpose?
Mr. Wall: --It wouldn't under this particular statute, Justice Ginsburg.
I didn't mean to imply under the FLSA.
The FLSA anti-retaliation provision does not have an opposing any practice clause in the way that some civil rights statutes do like Title VII.
So, it does require submission of a complaint to an employer, but that could take many forms.
And as you pointed out, Justice Scalia, in this particular context, filing something orally makes perfect sense.
We are not -- we are talking about the kinds of industries, truck drivers, coal miners and migrant workers where that's a perfectly normal use of speech.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Yes.
It's a perfectly normal use of speech, I accept that.
But what is it that would surround this use of speech on a particular occasion with enough formality that we know it isn't something that could pass unnoticed and bring in a whole lot of things like the cocktail party example, et cetera?
I noticed there was a paragraph in the AFL-CIO -- that's why I brought it up.
Is that the right standard?
What we say here may take effect or have influence, so -- so I want to say it correctly.
What kinds of oral complaints count as filing a complaint?
Mr. Wall: --Justice Breyer, I don't think the Government has any objection to that standard.
Although I do think--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: But I would like more than that.
The Government sees these statutes as a whole, so I would like the Government's assistance on what words to write to be able to get this right so it will not be too formal, it will not be too informal, it will do the job.
Mr. Wall: --I -- I think the kind of indicia or formality you are talking about are signs that the employer has submitted to his employer an assertion of statutory rights under the FLSA.
I think those are the two things that the lower courts have consistently looked to.
And I think those indicia of formality are a good sign that the employer has, but they are not the only sign.
If I walk into the happy hour and I have actually written down on a form that my employer promulgates and I hand it off to my supervisor--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: All right.
Now, fill in this blank then, there must be surrounding the oral complaint sufficient elements of formality such that--
Mr. Wall: --That the employer has -- the employee has indicated to his employer, someone in supervisory authority, that he is asserting statutory rights under the FLSA.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: So if he just says to the employer,
"You know, I think we ought to have a little more time to put on our gear. "
is that an assertion of statutory rights under the FLSA?
Mr. Wall: Mr. Chief Justice, I think that's a difficult question.
I don't think it is presented here, because this isn't a content case.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Yes, I know, but the idea -- one of the objections to your position is that it's going to be very hard to figure out in any particular case what is a filing an oral complaint under the FLSA, because one, it's got to be reconstructed, unlike the situation where you had have a government agency that's doing it, or you have a written complaint; and second of all, it's -- it's unclear perhaps for the employer to know that he's being charged with a violation of the FLSA.
Mr. Wall: But that question comes up in every case, whether the complaint is written or oral to the Government or an employer.
If I write down--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Well, if it's written -- if it's written, you have got a document that people can look like -- look at, whether it's the NLRB or a court, that -- that they can look at and say, yes, this is a -- an assertion of a violation.
Mr. Wall: --If I write down on a form promulgated by my employer I don't like where the time clocks are or I think the time--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: --But it's on a form.
So we have got that -- that helps a lot.
Also an employer could have a notice.
Notice, if you really are upset because you think there is a violation going here, go to this microphone which is directly connected to the complaint department and cite the statute.
That would work, too.
But -- but there have been years and years of -- you have just said, of statutes like this, you say that many of them operate orally.
What kind of thing, if you can help, maybe you can't -- which is dangerous, but then we just try to do our best, and we don't have the labor law experience necessarily, but -- but what is the -- the form of words that we can use to separate the wheat from the chaff?
Mr. Wall: --Justice Breyer, I'm sorry if -- if -- if it the formulation I have given you is not helpful, but in -- in these statutes where either by expressed language or regulation, so for instance, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, and ADA or OSHA, the -- the language varies from regulation to regulation.
In some of them it says lodge complaints, and some of them it says make a complaint.
But what the courts have--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Let me see if I can look, because in about 2 minutes you are going to hear, I suspect and the other side, say see, see, we told you, that's why you have to have it in writing.
Mr. Wall: --Again -- and agencies have put these in writing, so at footnote 6 on page, I think it's 16 of the Government's brief, we have the OSHA regulations.
The STAA regulations appear at page, I think it's 21--
Justice Samuel Alito: It would really be helpful if you could just give us the rule that you think should apply.
Is the rule -- your -- your -- Mr. Kaster's argument seems to be anything goes, any oral communication to a supervisor goes.
Mr. Wall: --I think--
Justice Samuel Alito: Let me go back to the example I started out with.
A worker has been hurt, a supervisor is going to attend to the hurt worker, and an employee says, the company is violating the FLSA.
And the supervisor says, don't tell me, and don't tell me about it now.
I'm doing something else.
Mr. Wall: --I think the test, Justice Alito, is whether the employee has submitted a complaint to his employer that has put the employer on notice that that employee is asserting statutory rights under the FLSA, claiming that he is legally entitled to something he is not receiving.
If the supervisor walks in the next morning and says to his boss, yesterday morning while I was attending to the plant accident, Joe told me that the time clocks are in the wrong place.
He's about to file.
I think we need to fire him, he's a troublemaker.
That employee has stated a claim to the FLSA.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Well, what if he goes to the boss and says, boss, you ought to do something, that railing is -- is pretty dangerous over there.
Mr. Wall: Again--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Is the boss supposed to know, well, he is asserting statutory rights under the FLSA?
Mr. Wall: --Mr. Chief Justice, I think there probably not.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: That would not be filing a complaint?
Mr. Wall: --I mean, I think as a content case, which it is not, it's unlikely that that is.
Saying that you don't like something or you think it is unsafe is not actually saying you have are asserting a right to have it differently.
But those are content cases.
And here there is no question the Petitioner asserted his statutory rights to a number of different people at the company.
What Respondent is saying is he didn't do it the right way.
If he had done exactly what he did in exactly the same words, but he had done it some other way, then it would be covered.
So, this is a form case.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: What did he do?
What did he do specifically?
I mean, you are saying that -- that the employer has to know that he is making a complaint under the Act.
So what -- and you said here are the facts that was clear that he did.
Mr. Wall: If you credit his allegations, which you have to at this point, because the district court granted summary judgment on a legal ground, what Petitioner says he did is he went to his supervisor.
He said the time clocks are in the wrong place.
We are not getting paid for all of our time.
And then he went up the ladder to human resources personnel at the company, and he said exactly the same thing, and he said I thinking about challenging you on it in court, and if I challenge you, you will lose.
Now, whatever the test is, that clearly meets the bar for asserting statutory rights under the FLSA.
And I think what is important to not is that this Court has consistently, from the 1940s on, both with respect to the FLSA and anti-retaliation provisions more generally in Title VII and other statutes, it has always given them a broader reading to effectuate their purposes.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Mr. Wall, I -- this is just a factual.
Were you saying that the employee has to know that he is submitting a claim of statutory violation or the employer?
Mr. Wall: I think what the lower courts have said, and I think this makes sense, is that the question of whether a reasonable, objective person would have understood the employee to have submitted a claim complaint.
So if the employee does everything he can to put the employer on notice, it's not a defense for the employer to say that subjectively he didn't understand it to be a complaint.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: In those circuits where they allow intercompany complaints that are oral, can you give me any sense of how often this leads to claim for retaliation?
I mean, are they in the hundreds or.
Mr. Wall: I can't, Justice Kennedy.
All I can tell you is that the vast majority of circuits have found that intracompany complaints are protected and--
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
Mr. Wall: --Thank you.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF CARTER G. PHILLIPS ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENT
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
Justice Breyer, I will say to you what you asked me to say, which is I believe if you get done listening to my colleagues on the other side, it will be quite clear that this is an inherently unworkable standard that they asked us to adopt under these--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So why is it inherently unworkable here in any greater extent that it is unworkable in all of the other statutes where oral complaints are permitted?
What makes this worse than these other statutes?
What would create more cases in this area as opposed to some of the other areas?
Oral complaints are explicitly--
Mr. Phillips: --I don't know that it is necessarily any worse in this particular context.
I do think what it suggests is that the Congress that looked at this problem, which as Justice Scalia pointed out was the 1938 Congress, and what that Congress was saying is we are taking a very dramatic step.
We are moving in the direction of Federal regulation--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --This is the -- this was the Lochner era where they weren't even sure they could do this.
But why should we read their language with a narrow reading of any complaint?
Mr. Phillips: --Well, I think you have to read their language as the way it was written and as the way they would have understood it at the time, which was to file any complaint, which as it would have been understood in '38 and frankly after that, when you file a complaint that usually entails some notion of formality and when you put it in the context of a specific provision where it is not only filing a complaint, but institute any proceeding, caused any proceeding to be instituted, justify any proceeding.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: What grievance -- would the bringing of a grievance, the example that Justice Breyer suggested, an employee goes to his union and says, they are violating the statute.
Let's grieve it.
And according to the proceedings established by the employer, they meet with the employer, and the employee does everything in the grievance and they now fire that employee.
Under your reading, that's not instituting a proceeding?
Mr. Phillips: No, because a proceeding is understood and it's used consistently in the FLSA as an official action by a government agency.
So no, I don't believe that is instituting a proceeding.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Then we have to address your second question, not the first.
You are saying the oral wouldn't work in there?
Mr. Phillips: Right.
The oral doesn't work in that particular context.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Would it work if they instituted a proceeding orally and the proceeding required itself to start orally?
Mr. Phillips: I don't -- the truth is, if the employer envisions in its mind that it is instituting a proceeding, that's still not a proceeding within the meaning of what Congress meant in 1938.
It had in mind an official action by a government agency.
And no private employer is ever going to institute a proceeding within the meaning of that particular scheme.
You know, it's extremely important in the context of this particular statute, and the one thing I should have answered, Justice Sotomayor, to your question is, what's different about this statute than any other?
This statute carries a criminal penalty with it.
And no other retaliation statute except for one--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But there is a protection built in, Mr. Phillips, it says it's criminal liability only if it's willful.
And on the civil side, the civil liability under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you certainly don't have to prove willful, you just prove a violation.
Mr. Phillips: --Right, but the reality is that this Court held in the CIT case that the Court would not construe this statute broadly in order to expose people to potential criminal liabilities.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Wouldn't any retaliatory action be willful?
I mean, to say it's in retaliation means you are firing this person because of the complaint.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The question is whether the violation is willful.
The willful qualification in the criminal context is are you willfully denying your workers the wages and hours the statute requires?
Mr. Phillips: Right.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Nothing to do with retaliation.
Mr. Phillips: No, I -- well, it does have something to do with retaliation, but, Justice Ginsburg, it seems to me it's all of a piece, though.
Because the reason why you can be comfortable with a willfulness standard even which extends to conscious disregard beyond the intent as well, but the reason why you can be comfortable with that is if you look at the way the statute is crafted in terms of the retaliation provision itself, it speaks specifically to formal actions that are taken, the filing of a complaint, the institution of a proceeding.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Do you know, how common is it to have criminal prosecutions under this section of the Fair Labor Standards Act?
Mr. Phillips: I don't believe -- I mean, it's not a null set, but I don't believe it's a particularly, I don't think it's a large number of proceedings.
But it seems to me, though, in trying to understand what the Congress of 1938 would have done and trying to understand why it would have approached this in a narrow way, and why this provision is aimed not generally to protect workers, but is aimed really to make sure that information gets to the Federal Government.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I thought that the whole idea of this statute is to protect the workers, and I would like you to address particularly the amici's point, that this statute in 1938 affected people -- many were illiterate, they couldn't write a complaint, many were immigrants who weren't familiar with the language, for that universe of people, wouldn't Congress have meant that all complaints are okay?
Mr. Phillips: Let me start by saying, first of all, even if the FLSA has broadly a pro employee protective purpose, it's still important to recognize that the retaliation provision we are talking about here specifically did not provide a cause of action, a private cause of action until 1977.
So that when Congress enacted this statute in 1938, it didn't say boo about allowing the employees to show up in court and to assert their rights.
This is not part of that expansive, grant rights to the employee's portion of this legislation.
And then second, Justice Ginsburg, with respect to the specifics of what did Congress have in mind, it seems to me the better way to evaluate this is not did Congress have in mind a group of illiterate employees or not, but what language did Congress use in trying to formulate the specific provision that gives rise to the protections against retaliation.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Your case would be a lot easier if you didn't try to have it both ways, to say, number one, it only applies to filing a complaint with the Government.
And number two, you say, it also only applies to written complaints to the Government.
I mean, why don't you--
Mr. Phillips: I will take the former argument, Your Honor.
Justice Antonin Scalia: --Why don't you give a break to the illiterate and let them file oral complaints with the Government?
Mr. Phillips: Well, my guess is the truth is they will be able to file oral complaints with the Government because, the only thing that is left open is the precise hypothetical you gave, Justice Scalia, where you make an oral complaint and nothing gets instituted in those circumstances.
And it seems to me, clearly, in the Federal Government's authority to simply adopt a rule that says any time anybody makes an oral complaint to us we will institute a proceeding.
And if the agency adopted that view, I don't think there is anything we could do about it.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Suppose it says we won't necessarily institute a proceeding, but we will regard it as a complaint?
Mr. Phillips: I -- I mean, my own view is the better way of reading -- that is a much closer case, I will concede that, Justice Scalia.
My own view is that when you talking about file a complaint, that is just not the way Congress ordinarily thinks about file a complaint.
File always has in mind written -- I'm sorry.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Justice Scalia's hypothetical, unless I am misremembering, I think, is very common.
For example, the EEOC, people often file complaints and then the EEOC considers whether it's going to institute a proceeding or not.
Mr. Phillips: Right.
And I'm not quarrelling with that.
I mean, I understand that.
And the truth is, you know, I think for another day the issue will arise and the Court can decide whether or not a mere oral complaint to a government agency is sufficient to file a complaint within the meaning of this statute.
I do think it is fundamentally important for this Court to decide the underlying question of whether oral complaints are sufficient only in the context in the first instance of deciding whether or not it has to go to a government agency as opposed to any kind of private or intracorporate activity.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: How does it work with respect to the more recent statutes?
Title VII, The Age Discrimination Act, Disabilities Act?
Mr. Phillips: In terms of retaliation, Justice Ginsburg?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Yes.
If you have not filed anything with the Government, but you have to your supervisor opposed a practice.
Mr. Phillips: No, the vast majority of those statutes talk about any action that -- opposing a practice, and therefore they deal with a lot of intracorporate activities, and obviously at some point there is an issue as to sort of what the employer's intent is and how far it got up the ladder--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But is it -- so in those cases I think you are quite right, intracorporate complaints count as opposing any practice.
Has there been any huge problems about people saying, oh, I made an oral complaint to my supervisor, and supervisor said I never heard of it?
Mr. Phillips: --Well, I suspect that issue comes up almost every day, and it is a problem; but it's a problem that Congress made a judgment that we would rather go ahead and allow those matters to be litigated; and language that is very expansive in protecting employees from retaliation.
And while I -- I may chafe at that at times as a managing partner of a law firm, I recognize that that is the judgment that Congress made.
Here we are talking about a Congress that made a very different judgment about how it wanted to protect retaliation.
And it was a judgment that was made, it seems to me, very much in the context of 1938.
Justice Sotomayor, you are very right; they were not sure they even had constitutional authority to be adopting this approach; and they are attaching to it criminal sanctions, and they are not providing a private right of action; and in that context it seems to me that this Court should comfortably say that this is a much narrower proposition.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: What about Justice Ginsburg's question?
Mr. Phillips: I'm sorry?
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: What about her question?
In 1938 a lot of illiterate people couldn't have filed written complaints.
Mr. Phillips: And Congress must have recognized that fact, and--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Well, if they did, isn't it reasonable to think that they would have included in filing, in such circumstances, oral filing?
Mr. Phillips: --No, because if under those circumstances when you're going to impose criminal sanctions on somebody, you're going to say we are not going to do that.
Justice Antonin Scalia: But your easier answer is,
"yes, but only with the government. "
Why isn't that an easier answer?
Mr. Phillips: I mean, I am perfectly comfortable with that.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: No, that -- your problem is -- that in front of us, do we have to decide that now?
We've granted a different question, etc.
Mr. Phillips: The -- I mean, the truth is--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: --You may not want to give up your first point.
Mr. Phillips: --Well, I don't want to give up either of the points, actually.
But the bottom line is, Justice Breyer, the question presented is -- is very broad.
I mean, the question of whether this goes to a governmental entity is fairly--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Right.
Then it's odd that you say -- it -- I gather, as well, for about 50 or 60 years the relevant agencies have interpreted the -- the statute the way that -- to include oral complaints.
And that seems to me a fairly strong reason for continuing to do so, if -- where the language is so -- allows it and there aren't any strong reasons the other way.
Mr. Phillips: --Well, I don't know that there's 50 or 60 years of allowing oral complaints--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Maybe it's 30 years.
Maybe it's 30.
Mr. Phillips: --to be in the -- in the private context.
There may be 50 to 60 years of allowing oral complaints being brought to the government agency, which I do think would go to Justice Scalia's point, but with respect to intracorporate communications there is no 60-year practice--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Do we owe any deference to the Government's position on this point?
Mr. Phillips: --I would not give any deference to the Government's position.
Certainly not Chevron deference because this is not a--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Well, Chevron deference would depend on an intent.
I guess you are getting into an argument here that there's no reason to repeat in public.
I mean, Justice Scalia and I don't necessarily agree on this.
Why would you--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Well, I mean, regardless of whether we do, why -- why don't you think we -- we have to give any deference, Chevron -- Chevron deference.
Mr. Phillips: --Well, I mean I -- yes.
There is no Chevron deference--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: --Why?
Mr. Phillips: --because this is not a matter that has been allocated to either the EEOC or the Secretary of Labor to administer and to adopt regulations.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: How do we know?
I mean, all right, if you want to get into it, this is a very minor sort of interstitial point in a statute that they administer, and there are lots of instances, I think where the Court has said, where these minor matters of how you work out the actual application of the word are implicitly delegate it to the agency to determine within the context of reasonable view.
Mr. Phillips: But Justice Breyer, that would strike me as a more persuasive argument if Congress hadn't -- hadn't delegated to the Secretary of Labor specific rulemaking authority with respect to specific provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and does not have a similar provision in connection with section 215(a).
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: But not everything has to be done through formal rules.
There -- there are many, many ways of agencies determining practice.
Mr. Phillips: Right.
But -- agency decisionmaking, but we don't have that either.
All we have here are certain enforcement actions that are being brought by the agency and indeed, if you look at the enforcement actions, they all ultimately tie to some official action by some government entity.
None of the actions that -- that you can go back to say I am going to defer to this, go into the circumstance we are talking about here, where it's a purely private action as opposed to some kind of a public--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So we should give it no weight at all?
Mr. Phillips: --I would give it no weight at all.
But even if you gave it weight--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Not even Skidmore?
Mr. Phillips: --its persuasive weight, its persuasive weight as applied on a private side is nonexistent.
You know, again, if -- if the issue were before -- if the--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Why?
Why would it be different?
If an agency work out a system of deciding when a person is really making a complaint, as opposed to an offhand remark, and that is good enough to run the government of the United States, where they have -- where they are in this business, why -- why couldn't whatever their indicia are there, also be transplanted to the private sector--
Mr. Phillips: --Well, it might be--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: --and get that to work out all right--
Mr. Phillips: --Right, but we don't have--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: --in which case you would be left, if you are going to say that might work, then -- the you are left with the simple argument that you don't think that this statute means to apply to complaints to an employer, written or oral?
Mr. Phillips: --Well, I -- I think the answer to that question is you don't have anywhere near the 50 years of practice dealing with the specific hypothetical you posed, Justice Breyer.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Would you accept -- you think -- that a tenable interpretation?
What this means is that written complaints are good enough to count as filings where you complained to your private employer, but written or oral count as a filing where you deal to -- with the government agency?
Mr. Phillips: I mean, I don't think that's the most natural way--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: No, it isn't.
Mr. Phillips: --to read this statute.
And I think the right way to read the statute is to either say--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Yes, I agree with you.
Mr. Phillips: --that a -- that an oral complaint is -- is not sufficient, but if -- but I don't think you have to decide that issue.
I think the better way to decide this case and the more fundamental one; it is the one Justice Scalia was coming back to, is does it apply beyond the government agency context?
And if that isn't--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: That isn't even brought up in the brief in opposition, right?
It -- it's in your brief on the merits.
Mr. Phillips: --It wasn't brought up specifically in the brief in opposition.
On the other hand, it was clearly presented and decided by the Seventh Circuit, so it was in the case as it came to this Court; and this Court's rule is that you can defend the judgment on any ground that's fairly presented.
And -- and this ground seems to me more than fairly presented, since it--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: On the ground itself, is there anything in the legislative history of the statute that says it's limited to the government?
Mr. Phillips: --Well, the -- yes -- if you go back to the legislative history there is a colloquy between the two Senators, and I recognize some members of the Court are unenthusiastic -- but -- but you know, in that colloquy, they talk about malicious complaints, and it seems to me malicious in that context is talking about where you have essentially defamed your employer through a government agency.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: That could be.
It could be that they are thinking of malicious complaints and they are thinking of government agencies at the time, but neither their language nor their purpose, as history later shows, requires that limitation on scope.
Mr. Phillips: Well, I think if you are going back and trying to figure out what the Congress of 1938 had in mind, the best way to do that is to look at the language chosen and the company that that language keeps.
And when you take about filing a complaint and you file a -- you talk about instituting a proceeding or causing a proceeding to be instituted, or testifying at a proceeding that's formal, or belonging to a -- to a company committee that is again, a governmentally instituted methodology, the best way to read that is to say what they have in mind is an official government action of some sort.
And it makes perfect--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: How would it -- how would it relate to, say, an equal pay complaint?
Because equal pay is formally part of the Fair--
Mr. Phillips: --Right.
It is tied to this.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: --Labor Standards Act.
But an equal pay complaint could also be brought as a Title VII suit.
Mr. Phillips: Right.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: So a -- a worker just complains about the denial of equal pay to the supervisor.
Does that -- is that--
Mr. Phillips: I have no doubt that an employee under those circumstances if -- if discharged would be able to make a claim under Title VII of retaliation for that particular conduct.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: --And there's been -- you said there was no evidence of the government for 60 years -- but there has been some 30 years or more experience under Title VII of the statutes, with oral complaints to the employer as being sufficient to ground a retaliation claim.
Mr. Phillips: Right.
And I -- I think the key to this process, Justice Ginsburg, is what lens you are looking at.
Are you looking through the cracked and yellowed glass that I am looking through from 1938, or the glass as it looks through in 2010, and the truth is if you were going to adopt--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But it really -- it starts in 1970.
Mr. Phillips: --I'm sorry?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It starts in the 1970s.
Mr. Phillips: To be sure, Justice Ginsburg, but the -- but the -- this statute was enacted in 1938, and it was enacted as fairly radical and made an -- an initial incursion from protecting people from rehabilitation.
It doesn't purport to be as expansive as any of the subsequent -- and the truth is -- can I make this point?
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: How long have collective bargaining arbitration agreements been in existence.
Mr. Phillips: Since the Federal Arbitration Act -- well, it actually probably predates the Federal Arbitration Act.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: How old?
Mr. Phillips: Oh, it would have been back around the same period of time, in the 1930s.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Do you think that when Congress wrote or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter, that they intended to exclude that proceeding and intended to exclude people who testified in that proceeding about a violation of the statute?
Mr. Phillips: Yes.
I don't -- I believe that proceeding is used in the Fair Labor Standards Act consistently throughout the statute to talk about Government -- official Government actions and not simply--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Can you point me to something in the act that defines "proceedings"--
Mr. Phillips: --No, nothing.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --"related" -- the words "proceedings related to this chapter", as limited only to Government proceedings?
Mr. Phillips: Well, I mean, that -- in the brief we identified a number of places where Congress uses the word "proceedings", and every place where they use the word "proceedings" they have in mind an official Government activity.
And so I think it is the most reasonable -- logical way to read this particular language as incorporating that.
Of course, even if that were true, even if you would preserve that, that still wouldn't be a basis for going forward with this case, because there was no proceeding that was instituted pursuant to the informal actions that were taken.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Then we're back to if Congress meant filing any complaints, either oral or in writing.
I'm asking a different question, which is--
Mr. Phillips: I understand that, but I'm--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --That Congress's intent was not to protect a worker who publicly took an oath in front of an arbitrator and testified about a violation of law, that they would not have considered that retaliatory under the statute.
Mr. Phillips: --I do not believe they would have regarded that as retaliatory under the statute because of the fact that the way this is all set up is the -- and the -- it's just the narrowness of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
And, Justice Ginsburg, to your question about the subsequent legislation that has all been enacted, it seems to me in a lot of ways that that reinforces the core interpretive approach that I have taken in this case, because if it were absolutely clear that the language about filing a complaint and instituting a proceeding were as broad as -- certainly as the Petitioner proposes in this case, where any kind of oral grumbling is sufficient, Congress never would have needed to deviate from that template and all the legislation that came afterwards.
And there are tons of statutes that say: File a complaint, institute a proceeding, and otherwise oppose.
And there would have been no reason for Congress to do that if this language would have accomplished precisely the same thing.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: It's more of a question for the Petitioner's counsel than you, but are you aware of any cases in any other jurisdictions where there have been proceedings, actions for retaliation, based on complaints to third parties, like complaining to the press?
Mr. Phillips: Well, I'm sure there are such cases, Your Honor.
I mean, I doubt -- it probably wouldn't come up so much in the Fair Labor Standards Act process.
And that's the problem: This has got a fairly narrow sweep to it.
Obviously, wage and hours is not a significant activity, but it doesn't tend to generate the same kind of intensity that you might expect out of Title VII or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act or some of the other provisions.
If there are no further questions, Your Honors, I would ask the Court to affirm the judgment.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Just one more question.
Mr. Phillips: Sure.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: It seems to me you are saying the only complaint that counts is the one to the Government.
Isn't -- in the work setting that's being regulated, wouldn't there be every reason to want the employee to complain first to the employer rather than making a Federal case out of it by complaining to a Government agency?
Mr. Phillips: Intuitively, I don't disagree with that, Justice Ginsburg, but we have to go, again: What was the purpose of this particular statute?
And this statute was not intended as a protection to the employer or to the employee -- or to the employer.
This was a provision that was designed to give information to the Federal Government.
And we know that because there's no private right of action to the employee that it is enforceable as a criminal sanction.
And if you go back to the precursors of the Fair Labor Standards Act -- and somebody asked; this was the first one.
I gathered there was a third one.
There was the Railway Labor Act, the NLRA, and then there was this particular provision.
But if you go back to these precursors, you see that it's, again, a very narrow approach that was taken under those statutes as well.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: What if you are an employee of the Treasury Department and there is an oral complaint to your superior?
Is that filing a complaint with the Government?
Mr. Phillips: I mean, part of it depends on whether the Fair Labor Standards Act applies to Federal employees.
There is a whole separate regime that deals with Federal employees.
And I can't -- I'm not 100 percent sure whether this provision applies under those circumstances.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Okay.
Thank you, Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Your Honor.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Mr. Kaster, you have five minutes.
REBUTTAL ARGUMENT OF JAMES H. KASTER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Mr. Kaster: Thank you, Your Honor.
We have two agencies here that have interpreted this statute this way.
And it's not just enforcement actions, but we also have the EEOC manual.
We also have other acts.
The Surface Transportation Act--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Excuse me.
I don't understand how those agencies have any part in the administration of private lawsuits under this statute.
Mr. Kaster: --The Department of Labor administers all -- all of the--
Justice Antonin Scalia: It administers lawsuits?
Mr. Kaster: --No.
Justice Antonin Scalia: I mean, it seems to me it's a matter for the courts.
An agency interprets the statutes that direct the agency's own actions if it has to enforce things and so forth.
But where there is a provision for a suit in court, it seems to me it's up to the courts to decide what it means.
Mr. Kaster: That may be true, Your Honor.
We have the identical language in the Surface Transportation Act in OSHA, which the agency does have regulatory power over and has interpreted this precise language to include oral communications.
In addition, the Migrant Workers Act -- counsel wants to suggest that all of this is a throwback to '38.
The Migrant Workers Act, which was adopted in 1982, has the very same language.
It is implausible to suggest that Congress would think that a migrant worker was leaving the field and writing up a memo and bringing it back to his supervisor in order to assert his statutory rights.
Justice Antonin Scalia: What do you mean by the very same language?
Mr. Kaster: Filed any complaint.
Filed a complaint.
Justice Antonin Scalia: --And the remainder of it?
Institute a proceeding--
Mr. Kaster: It goes beyond--
Justice Antonin Scalia: --Be a member of a committee?
He is relying on large part on the context of filing a complaint.
Does this statute have those other provisions?
Mr. Kaster: --It does not have those other provisions, Your Honor.
Justice Antonin Scalia: That's a big difference.
Mr. Kaster: Well, I respectfully disagree, Your Honor.
I also suggest that what we are talking about in the very first case that this Court dealt with after the act was passed were coal miners.
Nobody is taking -- I don't think it would be plausible to suggest that Congress thought that coal miners -- coal miners, factory workers, line workers -- they don't write memos.
With all due respect, Your Honor, lawyers write memos.
People who this act was intended to cover, the poorest and the least educated people in the country.
That's why under Mitchell v. DeMario and that's why under Tennessee Coal the Court has taken the position that this deserves, has to have, a broad interpretation.
Employees are the engine that actually enforces this act.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: That goes to your adversary's first argument or second argument where he says when this act was passed for all of those people, they would never have thought of going to their employer because the work ethos at the time was that those employees couldn't complain to their employers.
They would always naturally go to the Government.
How do you answer that?
How do you disprove that point: That historically at the time this was passed in 1938, that there was a number of those employees who as a regular course of their business, filed complaints with their employers as opposed to the Government?
Mr. Kaster: Any complaints, Your Honor.
Filed charges was the -- was the previous language in the National Labor Relations Act.
Congress adopted a different phrase here, "any" -- "filed any complaint"--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: I'm sorry.
Mr. Kaster: --"Filed any complaint".
In Rosenwasser, this Court said that the criminal liability concerns of the employer were addressed by the word "any".
In other words, when they suggested under the act that there was criminal liability and they didn't know the piecework employees were covered, the Court responded in 1945, the word "any" resolves any kind of ambiguity that the employer should have had.
In this case "any" means any and all, and that is without limitation.
That is the kind of complaint that is protected under the act.
On December 11 -- there is no question in this case Kevin Kasten asserted his statutory rights.
This is a case about form over substance.
Form over substance.
That's what we are talking about.
On December 11, 2006, Mr. Kaster was fired.
The same date, they changed the time clocks so that everybody else would get paid, just as he complained they weren't properly legally being paid before that.
They changed the clocks the same day.
If -- now, there were a half a million complaints last year in the Department of Labor.
If the Court should find that every complaint needs to go to the Department of Labor, then when I get a call from an employee, a disgruntled employee who says, my paycheck was wrong, or there is something wrong with my overtime calculation, I'm going to say, You can't afford to call the human resources department and have a conversation, a friendly conversation about this, because if you do, and you happen to trigger a statutory assertion, that will be unprotected.
You are going to foreclose all the internal communications that could occur.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
Mr. Kaster: Thank you.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: The case is submitted.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 prohibits employers from discharging or discriminating against an employee because that employee has “filed any complaint” related to the Act.
Now, the petitioner here Kevin Kasten, complained to his supervisor at work about what he saw as a violation of the Act's provisions governing working hours and later he was dismissed.
And he says that was in retaliation for having made that complaint.
The question before us here is whether the phrase "filed any complaint" applies to an employee who like petitioner Kasten made a complaint about a violation of the Act but made that complain orally rather than in writing.
The Seventh Circuit held that the phrase "filed any complaint" applies to and protects only those who filed there complaints in writing.
We do not agree.
The word file does sometimes refer to a writing but sometimes it does not.
And there are two important considerations here that are you in favor of the broader interpretation.
First, the Act was passed in the 1930s to protect the poorest of workers limiting its anti-retaliation provision to written complaints would undercut protection for those such as illiterate workers who need it the most.
Second, the Secretary of Labor and the EEOC have long taken the position that the provision protects oral complaints and we were deferred to the reasonable views of those agencies.
This is not to say that a worker can invoke the protections of the Acts simply by going around complaining.
Rather the statutory text "filed any complaint" does contemplate a degree of formality certainly to the point where the employer, the recipient, has been given fair notice that a grievance about illegal conditions as at issue, it has been lodged and he should reasonably understand that that's meant to be a serious business concern.
Saint-Gobain makes the additional claim that it should win because the Act protects only complaints made to the Government and not as here simply to a supervisor in a private firm.
Because this argument was not properly preserved however, we do not consider it.
For these reasons and those given in our opinion filed today, we vacate the judgment of the Seventh Circuit and we remand the case for further proceedings.
Justice Scalia has filed the dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas joins in part.
Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.