The Seventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal on the pleadings of a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) action. The Seventh Circuit stated that the plaintiff’s allegations, “… even generously construed, do not remotely support a claim that her employer retaliated against the plaintiff for asserting her rights protected by the Act.”
Overview: Plaintiff began working for a health care trade association in September 2014. After multiple merit raises and strong performance reviews, she was promoted in 2016 to the position of Director of Corporate and Community Engagement, making her an exempt salaried employee under the FLSA. After the promotion, plaintiff’s relationship with the president and CEO of the association began to deteriorate. The president became confrontational, unfairly criticized the plaintiff and antagonized her in front of colleagues. In February 2017, the president arranged a meeting with the plaintiff to air out some grievances. During the meeting, the plaintiff told the president she was “uncomfortable being attacked this way.” The plaintiff also complained that the association did not have a human resources department to help resolve this conflict, and was sent home for the day. The following morning, the president informed the plaintiff that she was suspended for six days without pay. The plaintiff proceeded to email four members of the association’s Board of Directors voicing her frustrations and hired a lawyer who emailed a letter to the Board as well. That letter was forwarded by the Board, to the president, who then sent an email to the entire staff stating that effective immediately, the plaintiff was no longer employed by the association. Plaintiff then filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired in violation of the FLSA’s antiretaliation provision, which makes it unlawful to discharge an employee “because such employee has filed any complaint… under or related to the FLSA.” The association moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The district court judge granted the motion, holding that the plaintiff’s complaints to the Board had nothing to do with the rights protected under the FLSA.
Outcome: Plaintiff was an exempt employee and FLSA actions focus on nonexempt employees. In addition, district court held that plaintiff's email and her attorney’s letter to the Board contained only a highly generalized protest of the CEO’s actions. As such, no reasonable employer would recognize them as assertions of FLSA-protected rights. Lastly, for plaintiff’s conduct to be protected, she must have held a good-faith belief that her suspension violated the FLSA. Nonetheless, her allegations do not support an inference that she believed her disciplinary suspension violated her rights under the Act.
To review the full case, click here.