Dellinger v. SAIC: It All Depends on How You Define the Word "Employee"
In an important decision regarding the anti-retaliation provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with Judge Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia that the clear language of the statute restricts its application to "employers" of the retaliation victim. In spite of Natalie Dellinger's contention that Science Applications International Corporation refused to hire her upon discovery of her having sued a former employer for FLSA violations, the court said "a prospective employee cannot sue a prospective employer for retaliation." Rejecting the argument that the law says that an "employer" cannot retaliate against an "employee," and that Dickerson was an "employee" while SAIC was an "employer," two members of the three-judge panel concluded that contrary interpretations of other employment statutes were either not in point or were not well-reasoned. Judge King dissented, saying that the Supreme Court's 1997 decision in Robinson v. Shell Oil Co. mandated a different result, but the majority saw no persuasive impact of the Robinson decision, where the Court held that Shell violated the differently-worded retaliation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by its conduct toward a former employee. Unlike the plaintiff in the Robinson case, Dellinger had never worked for SAIC, and the decision not to hire her was not the basis for a retaliation complaint.