WASHINGTON, D.C. - (Mealey's) An employer may not use
third-party reprisal as a means of retaliating against the third party's
fiancée, an employee who filed a discrimination claim, and the third-party
employee has standing to sue the employer, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled
on Jan. 24, reversing an en banc Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals
ruling (Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, No. 09-291, U.S. Sup.;
See December 2010, Page 5).
Eric Thompson and his then fiancée, Miriam Regalado, were
both employed by North American Stainless LP (NAS) when Regalado filed a sex
discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
NAS fired Thompson, and Thompson filed his own charge with the EEOC, alleging
that he was fired to retaliate against Regalado for filing her charge.
Thompson sued NAS in the U.S. District Court for the
Eastern District of Kentucky, alleging that NAS violated Title VII, which
forbids discrimination for the filing of a charge. The District Court
dismissed Thompson's complaint, finding that Title VII "does not permit third
party retaliation claims."
A divided Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel
reversed. But following a rehearing en banc, the court upheld the
dismissal of Thompson's complaint, reasoning that Thompson was not entitled to
sue NAS for retaliation because Thompson had not engaged in any protected
In reversing, the Supreme Court held that, "if the facts
alleged by Thompson are true," then NAS's firing of Thompson constituted
unlawful retaliation in violation of Title VII, saying that "[w]e think it
obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected
activity if she knew that her fiancée would be fired."
The Supreme Court then ruled that Thompson had a cause of
action under Title VII against NAS. Thompson "falls within the zone of
interests protected by Title VII" because "Thompson was an employee of NAS, and
the purpose of Title VII is to protect employees from their employers' unlawful
actions. Moreover, accepting the facts as alleged, Thompson is not an
accidental victim of the retaliation."
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the court's opinion, in
which all other justices joined, except Justice Elena Kagan, who took no part
in the consideration or decision of the case.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a concurring opinion,
in which Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined, stating that "[t]oday's decision
accords with the longstanding views of the" EEOC.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the
February issue. In the meantime, the opinion is available at www.mealeysonline.com or
by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document
#73-110211-004Z. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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