High Court OKs Suit for Third Party Retaliation

02.05.2011
HR & Safety

In a unanimous opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that an employee who was fired after his fiancee filed a discrimination charge against their mutual employer can sue for “third party retaliation.”

Eric Thompson and his fiancee Miriam Regalado both worked for North American Stainless (NAS). Shortly after Regalado filed a sex discrimination complaint against NAS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Thompson was fired. Thompson then filed his own retaliation charge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming NAS fired him to retaliate against Regalado for her initial complaint

The lower federal courts ruled in NAS’ favor, saying that third party retaliation claims were not permitted under Title VII, i.e., Thompson could not raise a retaliation claim because he himself had not engaged in any protected activity. But the Supreme Court disagreed.

Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision must be interpreted to cover a broad range of employer conduct, said the Court. It prohibits any conduct that well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a discrimination charge. In this case, a reasonable worker might be dissuaded if she knew her fiancee would be fired.

Accepting the facts as alleged, Thompson is not an accidental victim of the retaliation, the Court continued. Hurting him was the employer’s intended means of punishing Regalado. Under these circumstances, the Court concluded, Thompson was well within the “zone of interests” sought to be protected by Title VII and is an aggrieved person with standing to sue.

The ruling is in keeping with the EEOC’s long-standing position on third party retaliation. The lawsuit has been returned to the lower courts, where Thompson will have the chance to prove his case.

This past fiscal year, the EEOC received more charges alleging retaliation than any other basis, supplanting race discrimination for the first time in the agency’s 45 year history as the most frequently filed charge.

To read the case: www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-291.pdf

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