Office Tiff Doesn't Qualify as 'Clear and Detailed' FLSA Complaint

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A spat over 10 minutes' pay can turn into a federal appellate case.

Leslie Montgomery worked for Kyle and Kathy Havner at the Havner Law Firm in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Kathy was the office manager for the firm. Beginning early in Montgomery's employment at the firm, Montgomery and Kathy had disagreements about Montgomery's choice of dress, use of Facebook during work hours, and entry into the office after hours.

The disagreements ultimately resulted in Montgomery's termination.

One afternoon, Kathy observed Montgomery clearing her desk in preparation for closing at 4:45. Kathy told Montgomery and two other employees in the office they could leave for the day and she would clock them out. Montgomery learned from another employee that Kathy clocked Montgomery out at 4:45 p.m. and clocked the other two employees out 10 minutes later.

Montgomery called Kathy to ask about the time difference later that evening. According to Montgomery, Kathy agreed to adjust the clockout time and the conversation ended nicely.

Kathy called Montgomery back a short time later to discuss a different office issue. That conversation became heated. Then Kyle called Montgomery and fired her.

Montgomery sued the Havners for retaliation in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The district court granted the Havners' motions for summary judgment, concluding Montgomery failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the FLSA because no reasonable jury could find that Montgomery's call to Kathy about the 10-minute discrepancy constituted "filing a complaint" under the FLSA.

While the FLSA includes an antiretaliation provision making it unlawful fire an employee for filing a complaint, the Supreme Court says that 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."

Because Montgomery's inquiry about the 10-minute deduction was not a sufficiently clear and detailed FLSA complaint, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court.

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