Claims of retaliation are some of the most common bases for employee lawsuits. No matter whether an employee has spoken up against workplace discrimination, harassment, or safety violations, it is not unusual for her to face some sort of adverse action – including demotion, firing, and salary reduction – by her employer.

Fortunately, federal law offers workers protection against retaliatory actions by employers. And after two recent Supreme Court decisions, workers may find it easier to bring successful retaliation claims.

Thomson v. North American Stainless

In Thomson, the plaintiff, Eric Thomson, and his fiancée both worked for the same company, North American Stainless. Shortly after his fiancée filed a discrimination claim against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Thomson was fired. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which bans workplace retaliation against an employee who brings a charge of discrimination – protects coworkers who are relatives or close associates of the protected employee. In other words, North American Stainless could not punish Thomson for his fiancée’s decision to bring a discrimination claim.

Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp.

In Kasten, the Supreme Court considered the anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which protect workers who have filed complaints against their employers. In this case, Kasten claimed that he had been fired after complaining about the placement of time clocks, which resulted in employees not receiving compensation for the donning and doffing of their work outfits. In a decision affirmed by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the District Court dismissed Kasten’s claim, holding that the FLSA did not protect employees who have only made an oral complaint.

The Supreme Court, however, reversed the decisions of the lower courts, finding that the FLSA does, indeed, protect employees who have “filed any complaint,” including oral complaints.

Contact an Employment Law Lawyer

As Thomson and Kasten demonstrate, you have rights as a worker. If you believe that your employer has illegally retaliated against you because of a workplace complaint, contact an experienced employment law attorney.