Recently, a Florida federal judge dismissed a portion of Lilli Morse's lawsuit against international finance company JP Morgan Chase & Co. In her lawsuit, Ms. Morse alleged that J.P. Morgan failed to pay her overtime wages and fired her when she complained about this on her Facebook page. While the judge allowed the part of Ms. Morse's lawsuit seeking unpaid overtime wages to move forward, he dismissed the claim alleging that an illegal firing had taken place.
Minimum wage and overtime laws require that employees be paid at least one-and-a-half times their regular rate of pay for all overtime hours worked (all hours over forty worked in a given workweek). Additionally, it is unlawful for an employee to be fired for filing a complaint about not being paid overtime. However, because not all complaints are "filed" complaints, not all complaints are protected. This blog has previously highlighted a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Kasten v. Saint Gobain, in which an employee's oral (i.e., non-written) wage-related complaint made directly to his employer was protected.
According to the Florida federal judge in Ms. Morse's case, a complaint on Facebook did not constitute a filed complaint, and was therefore not protected. The Judge wrote that "Morse does not allege that she made anything close to a serious complaint to her employer. In fact, she never complained to her employer at all. She simply voiced her disagreement with her employer's payment practices on her Facebook page. This 'letting off steam' falls far short of the activity protected..."
The lesson to be learned from Ms. Morse's case is simple: If you want your complaint to be legally protected, you need to complain directly to your employer's management personnel. Griping about workplace conditions in your Facebook status, or on Twitter, may draw the attention you are trying to get, but in a way that lands you in the unemployment line with no legal recourse.
In any event, employees should act cautiously when seeking to remedy job-related problems, such as violations of their rights to minimum wage and overtime. The law protects some activities but not others. If you believe your rights have been violated, or if you simply want to better understand what your rights are, you should contact aSt. Louis overtime attorney.