Employment Law Alert – U.S. Supreme Court Expands Who Can Sue for Retaliation under Title VII
The United States Supreme Court recently expanded the scope of who is protected from workplace retaliation in the case of Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP. Until 2003, both Eric Thompson and his fiancée, Miriam Regalado, were employed by North American Stainless (“NAS”). In February 2003, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) notified NAS that Ms. Regalado had filed a charge of sex discrimination against her employer. Three weeks later, NAS fired Thompson.
Thompson then filed a charge with the EEOC and sued NAS in federal court, alleging that NAS violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by terminating his employment in order to retaliate against Regalado for filing her charge with the EEOC.
The Supreme Court concluded that if the facts as Thompson alleged them were true, then NAS’s firing of Thompson was retaliation in violation of Title VII. Justice Scalia’s opinion stated, “We think it obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé might be fired.”
The Supreme Court acknowledged NAS’ concern that an employer could be placed at risk any time it fires any employee who happens to have a connection to a different employee who engaged in a protected activity, but said it did not think it justified a categorical rule that third-party reprisals violated Title VII. The Court also declined to identify a fixed class of relationships for which third-party reprisals are unlawful, noting only that “We expect that firing a close family member will almost always meet the… standard.”
Therefore, Thompson was an aggrieved person with standing to sue under Title VII.
Employers should keep in mind the expanded scope of who may sue for retaliation in mind when training managers and supervisors to avoid retaliatory acts.
For more information on this development and how it affects your business, please contact Kara Arguello or any member of Berliner Cohen’s Employment Law Group.
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