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I Was Fired Today For Complaining About Wage Violations. I Need A Lawyer!

On Behalf of | Oct 21, 2015 | Retaliation, Wage: Minimum Wage, Wage: Overtime, Wage: Tipped Employees, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Wage and Hour Attorney Answer: Can I sue for wrongful termination if I was fired for complaining about wage theft? Does the FLSA have an anti-retaliation provision? What type of lawyer do I need to sue for not being paid overtime pay that I’m owed?

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Yesterday, our wage and hour attorneys blogged about servers being cheated out of tips and wages by their employers. Today, our employment lawyers tackle the issue of what happens if your employer decides to wrongfully fire you if you complain about such wage theft.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA“) prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee because he or she complains of or reports suspected violations of the FLSA including failure to pay minimum wage, overtime compensation or other related FLSA violations. The FLSA proscribes retaliation by “discharg[ing]” or otherwise “discriminat[ing] against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this Act.” 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3). Claims of FLSA retaliation are analyzed under the burden-shifting analysis set forth by the Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green. Under the McDonnell Douglas framework, an employee must first establish a prima facie case of retaliation under the FLSA.

To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, an employee must establish that (1) he engaged in protected activity under the FLSA; (2) his exercise of this right was known by his employer; (3) his employer took an employment action adverse to him; and (4) there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. If a plaintiff makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the defendant employer to offer evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. To meet this burden, the employer must clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, the reasons for its decision. If the employer is successful, the burden then shifts back to the employee to identify evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the proffered reason is actually a pretext for unlawful discrimination.

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In July 2015, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee (Sixth Circuit) issued an opinion in Pelham v. Unipres U.S.A., Inc. denying a defendant-employer’s partial motion for summary judgment regarding Pelham’s FLSA retaliation claim. As the basis for his claim, Pelham alleged that he complained to Unipres “every day” for two weeks that he had not been paid his federally-mandated minimum wage for facility shifts that he was working during his employment. The Court found that these complaints were “protected activity” sufficient to support Pelham’s FLSA retaliation claim. The employer argued that the closeness in time between the protected activity (the wage complaints) and the termination of Pelham was not enough to prove that the termination was caused by those wage complaints. Essentially, the employer argued that more evidence was needed to prove a causal link between the protected wage complaints be the employee and its termination of that employee. The Court rejected this legal argument on causation:

[T]he Sixth Circuit in Montell clearly rejected the argument that temporal proximity alone was not be enough to establish causation in certain circumstances. In doing so, the court relied on Mickey v. Zeidler Tool & Die Co., 516 F.3d 516, 525 (6th Cir. 2008), an ADEA case, in which the court had gone to great lengths to address what it considered to be misunderstandings of prior precedent and to harmonize lines of cases that had appeared to diverge concerning this subject. The court expressly stated that temporal proximity alone can be enough to establish causation, where an adverse employment action occurs very close in time after an employer learns of a protected activity. Montell, 757 F.3d at 505.

The Court similarly held that Pelham has creates questions of fact regarding the causal connection between his complaints and his suspension/termination from the company that followed soon thereafter. The Court specifically stated:

Here, Pelham complained about his unpaid wages every day for two weeks and—most importantly—immediately before he was assigned to work an unfamiliar task at the Nissan Facility that gave rise to the purported basis for Unipres’ adverse action against him. Given the immediate temporal connection between (1) Pelham’s complaints, (2) Unipres’ suspension of Pelham mere hours after the Nissan Facility shift at issue, and (3) Unipres’ termination of Pelham shortly thereafter, Pelham has sufficiently established a case that his complaints had a direct bearing on his termination.

Pelham’s testimony concerning (1) Simpson’s growing anger towards only him, (2) Brown’s comments echoing the same, and (3) Pelham’s sudden assignment to a new line position, without any information as to the identity of his supervisors or the proper mechanisms for taking breaks, provides additional evidence of disparate treatment that supports Pelham’s case for causation

Finally, even though Unipres was able to set forth a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for termination, Pelham presented evidence of pretext that called for the denial of summary judgment, specifically finding that Unipres could not rely on the “honest belief” rule to hide behind as a justification for Pelham’s termination because Pelham was able to present evidence “evidence sufficient to allow a jury to reasonably reject Unipres’ explanation and conclude that Unipres failed to make a reasonably informed and considered decision in terminating Pelham.”

If you have been denied minimum wages or not paid time and a half for your overtime hours, or even think that you might need an employment lawyer, you should call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation at 866-797-6040. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting employees’ wage rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Ohio wage law.

Minimum Wage

If you believe that your employer is not paying you all of your wages, paying you less than minimum wage, unlawfully deducting money from your paycheck, not paying you time and a half for overtime, or is otherwise cheating you out of wages requires contact the minimum wage violation lawyers and overtime claim attorneys at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm today for a free and confidential initial consultation. You may have a claim under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act or Ohio Fair Labor Standards Act. The wage and hour lawyers at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm will provide you with the best options for your wage and hour pay dispute situation. If you even think that you may be entitled to overtime pay that you are not being paid, call 866-797-6040.


The materials available at the top of this overtime, wage and hour web page and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “Am I entitled to overtime?”, “Does my job have to pay me for …”, “My paycheck is not right…” or “What do I do if…”, the your best option is to contact an Ohio overtime attorney to obtain advice with respect to FLSA questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.

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