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HR director's FLSA retaliation case reinstated

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Even though the Fair Labor Standard Act's anti-retaliation provision does not normally cover managers, a manager for a trucking logistics firm is protected because she was not acting within her regular duties in complaining about her firm's failure to comply with the act, says an appeals court in reinstating a retaliation case.

Alla Josephine Rosenfield was hired by Phoenix-based GlobalTranz Enterprises Inc. in 2010 and was eventually named director of human resources and corporate training, according to Monday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in Alla Josephine Rosenfield v. GlobalTranz Enterprises Inc.

Throughout her employment, Ms. Rosenfield reported to her superiors that the company was not compliant with the FLSA and repeatedly sought changes to attain compliance, according to the ruling.

Ms. Rosenfield was fired in May, 2011. She then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, charging her termination violated the FLSA's anti-retaliation provision. The District Court granted GlobalTranz summary judgment based on the company's argument that as a manager she could not be considered to have filed a complaint dismissing the case. Ms. Rosenfield appealed.

The 9th Circuit reinstated the case in a split 2-1 ruling. The FLSA prohibits retaliation against workers who make a complaint, said the ruling, and it is considered a complaint if an entry-level employee reports someone is underpaid in violation of the FLSA.

“But if the identical report were made by a manager tasked with ensuring the company's compliance with the FLSA, a reasonable employer almost certainly would not understand that report as a 'complaint',” said the majority ruling.

In this case, however, Ms. Rosenfield's boss considered himself solely responsible for FLSA compliance, said the ruling. “Because FLSA compliance was not part of plaintiff's job portfolio, her advocacy for the rights of employees to be paid in accordance with the FLSA could not reasonably have been understood (if it was) merely to be part of plaintiff's regular duties,” said the ruling in reinstating the case and remanding it for further proceedings.

The dissenting opinion said “there is nothing alleged in the plaintiff's complaint to indicate that she stepped out of her role as director of human resources to file a complaint against her employer within the meaning of the FLSA.”

Last week, a U.S. District Court dismissed an FLSA case in which Chicago police charged the police department maintained an unwritten policy of denying them compensation for off-duty work they performed on their department-issued BlackBerry devices.