Posts tagged with "rebuttable presumption"

Beware the Casual Employee Complaint

The United States Supreme Court had overturned long-standing law in the Federal Districts of Connecticut and New York with respect to employee claims of retaliation for registering a complaint with an employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“Act”). In this case note, we will tell you how the law changed, and how employers should adopt changes in policy and procedure to protect themselves from a new and difficult-to-defend source of employment-related liability.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 and subsequently amended by the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Act sets forth employment rules concerning minimum wages, maximum hours, and overtime pay. The Act contains an anti-retaliation provision prohibiting the discharge of or discrimination against any employee who has “filed any complaint” related to the Act. In 1993, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (whose jurisdiction includes Connecticut and New York) decided Lambert v. Genesee Hospital, 10 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 1993).

There the Court held that “[t]he plain language of this [anti-retaliation] provision [of the Act] limits the cause of action to retaliation for filing formal complaints, instituting a proceeding, or testifying, but does not encompass complaints made to a supervisor.” Id. at 55. Such was the settled law within this Circuit until March 22, 2011, when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 2011 U.S. LEXIS 2417 (2011).

Kasten v. Genesee Hospital

In Kasten, the Supreme Court conducted a thorough exegesis of the phrase “filed any complaint” in the context of whether the statutory language included oral, as well as written complaints, and whether oral complaints thereby constituted protected conduct under the Act’s anti-retaliation provision. The case involved an employee who complained orally to his supervisor about the physical placement of time clocks so as to deprive workers of compensable time. The employee was fired soon after his complaint.

The Supreme Court found the text of the statute to be inconclusive as to its meaning and harkened back to the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt and pre-World War II census data to further divine the Act’s legislative intent. The Supreme Court ultimately concluded: “[t]o fall within the scope of the anti retaliation provision, 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. This standard can be met, however, by oral complaints, as well as by written ones.” Kasten at * 23.

Left unanswered by the Court, however, is the actual level of clarity and detail required to elevate some employee “letting off steam” (e.g., to a supervisor at a Friday night, after-work happy hour) to the protected activity of “filing of a complaint.” Turning the already murky waters opaque, the Court offered this guidance: “[t]he phrase ‘filed any complaint’ contemplates some degree of formality, certainly to the point where the recipient has been given fair notice that a grievance has been lodged and does, or should, reasonably understand the matter as part of its business concerns.”

Dangers to Employers

Lurking behind the Court’s holding is the spectre of an employee dismissed for cause suddenly recalling his prior oral complaint to his supervisor about violations of the Act, thus playing his anti-retaliation “get out of jail free” card. While the Supreme Court paid lip service to the requirement that an employer be given “fair notice” (albeit orally) of a claimed violation of the Act, it “[left] it to the lower courts to decide whether Kasten [the plaintiff-employee] will be able to satisfy the Act’s notice requirement.” Id. at * 27. As of this point, there is no such lower court advice to depend upon, but there are steps an employer can now take to reduce its exposure to a fabricated, after-the-fact claim of employer retaliation.

Employer Protections

Employee Handbooks or Company Policies and Procedures Manuals should be amended to require that all employee complaints to supervisors or management be written (even if anonymous) on a form prescribed by the employer and delivered to a specific location (e.g., suggestion box) or a designated member of management. A sample form should be appended to the Handbook or Manual as an Exhibit, and a supply of forms should be made readily (but discretely) available to employees. The Company needs to establish a usual, customary, and accepted practice of addressing only written employee complaints, irrespective of their subject, seriousness, or source.

The complaint forms should be numerically serialized upon receipt and logged in so that there is no question as to whether or when it was received. In this way, the company can argue that the absence of such a written complaint form raises a rebuttable presumption that no such complaint was ever made. It will thus deprive a discharged employee of the opportunity after he is fired to conjure up a “stealth” retaliation claim based upon a “phantom” oral complaint.

In the meantime, supervisors and management should be made aware that seemingly innocuous oral complaints from employees about wages and hours are sufficient to trigger the anti-retaliation provision of the Act and should be investigated and acted upon.

The Attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. regularly draft and review Employee Handbooks and advise employers on the full spectrum of employment law and employer-employee relations. For additional information, contact attorney Joseph Maya at (203) 221-3100 or

Superior Court Denies Motion to Dismiss, Tape Recording of DUI Suspect’s Phone Call to Attorney Was Not Prejudicial State Intrusion

In a criminal law matter, a Superior Court of Connecticut determined that the recording of a one-sided conversation between the defendant and his attorney was not a prejudicial intrusion into attorney-client protections, and as such the Court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss.

Case Background

This case arose from an incident that occurred on the evening of March 25, 2010. A police officer on route patrol observed the defendant driving his motor vehicle on the Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield, CT. The officer suspected that the defendant was driving under the influence, so he initiated a traffic stop and administered several field sobriety tests. The defendant was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a, advised of his Miranda rights, and transported to the police station.

The defendant was placed in a booking room specific to OMVUI cases. Pursuant to its own policy, the department records everything that goes on in this room. As the officer in this case later testified, “[U]ntil the processing is complete, police policy requires the officer to keep visual observation of the defendant ‘so they don’t put anything in their mouth.’”

The officer gave the defendant a notice of rights, which included information about the results of or the refusal to submit to a chemical alcohol test, and stated the defendant could contact an attorney. The defendant made telephone contact with an attorney, and police recorded the defendant’s side of this conversation, which at times was either muffled or inaudible.

The Sixth Amendment

After the phone call was completed, the defendant refused to take the Breathalyzer test. The officer did not use the contents of the tape in his investigation, nor did it influence the charges brought against the defendant. In addition, upon learning of the tape’s existence, the prosecutor advised defense counsel that the State also would not use it; indeed, the tape was not introduced into evidence. However, the defendant moved to dismiss the case, arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because the tape recording constituted an impermissible State invasion of the attorney-client relationship.

Under the Sixth Amendment, any communication between an attorney and his client “made in confidence for the purpose of seeking legal advice” is protected by the attorney client privilege. However, this is no reasonable expectation of confidentiality if the statements are made in the presence of a third party. Therefore, a reviewing court must consider whether or not an invasion by the State into this privilege was “so prejudicial to warrant dismissal of the charges.”

There is a rebuttable presumption of prejudice, which can be overcome if the prosecutor presents clear and convincing evidence that the intrusion was not prejudicial to the outcome of the case. In an opinion, the Supreme Court of Connecticut admitted that the Sixth Amendment is automatically violated where there is “mere unintentional intrusion into privileged information containing trial strategy.”

The Court’s Decision

In this case, the Superior Court reviewed the content of the one-sided phone call and determined that there was nothing of strategic value discussed, such as the credibility of trial witnesses, potential evidence, what to focus on during witness examinations, or specific arguments or defenses. Rather, from the conversation we learn that the defendant was concerned with his probation status, whether to take the Breathalyzer test, the implications of a refusal, and his wife’s reaction to the arrest. Therefore, the Court found the defendant was not prejudiced by the State intrusion and denied his motion to dismiss.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence), an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at