In January of 2011, the US Supreme Court in Thompson v. N.Am. Stainless, LP, 131 S.Ct. 863 (2011), held that a terminated employee, who was fired three weeks after his fiancé filed a sexual harassment claim against the employer, had standing to bring a Title VII retaliation action against the employer.
Until 2003, petitioner, Eric Thompson and his fiancée, Miriam Regalado, were employees of North American Stainless. In February 2003, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) notified the employer that Ms. Regalado had filed a charge alleging sex discrimination. Three weeks later, the employer fired Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson filed his own charge of discrimination with the EEOC and a lawsuit under the anti-retaliation cause of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, claiming that his employer fired him to retaliate against his fiancé for filing her charge.
The trial court reasoned that Mr. Thompson did not engage in any statutorily protected activity, either on his own behalf or on behalf of his fiancé and was therefore, not included in the class of persons for whom Congress created a retaliation cause of action. The trial court granted summary judgment to the employer on the grounds that third-party retaliation claims are not permitted by Title VII, which prohibits discrimination against an employee, “because he has made a Title VII charge.” The U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment to the employer on the ground that third-party retaliation claims were not permitted by Title VII. Certiorari was granted to the United States Supreme Court to answer the question of whether or not Mr. Thompson had a cause of action under Title VII.
The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision, holding that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision must be construed to cover a broad range of employer conduct as stated in Burlington N.&S.F.R.Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 126 S.Ct. 2405, 156 L.ed.2d 345 (2006). The Court stated that the provision prohibits any employer action that “well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a discrimination charge.” Thompson v. N.Am.Stainless, LP, 131 S. Ct. 863, 866 (Colo. 2011). A reasonable worker might well have been dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé would be fired. The Supreme Court declined to identify a fixed class of relationships for which third-party reprisals are unlawful; stating that firing a close family member will almost always be covered under the range of employer conduct but a mere acquaintance will almost never do so, but the Court was reluctant to generalize stating that it will depend upon the circumstances.
If you feel you have been retaliated against at work for any reason, including the acts of a fellow employee, contact an attorney to discuss your legal rights.