In a recent decision, Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP
, the United States Supreme Court permitted a retaliation claim, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, brought by the fiancé of an individual who filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Miriam Regalado and her fiancé, Eric Thompson, were both employed by North American Stainless. Regalado filed a sex discrimination charge with the EEOC and, three weeks later, the company fired Thompson. Thompson then brought an EEOC charge and subsequent lawsuit, claiming that he was fired in retaliation for Regalado’s EEOC charge.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that Title VII covers third party retaliation claims, and Thompson was entitled to bring suit. In reaching its decision, the Court reasoned that Thompson was a “person aggrieved” within the meaning of Title VII and fell within that statute’s “zone of interest.” Although the Court stated that retaliation against close family members would most likely be sufficient, it stopped short of identifying a fixed class of relationships for which third party claims are permitted.
This decision expands the class of employees who may assert retaliation claims. Employers should ensure that managers understand that they may not retaliate against employees who engage in protected conduct or the friends and family members of those employees. In 2010, retaliation claims were already the most popular charge filed with the EEOC. This decision is likely to continue that trend.
* Special thanks to Douglas Florence who contributed to this posting.