Supreme Court: Title VII Forbids Third-Party Retaliation

Supreme Court: Title VII Forbids Third-Party Retaliation

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 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.).

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 activity.

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 of Mealey's Litigation Report: Employment Law.  In the meantime, the opinion is available at 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]

Download the document now: - Document #73-110211-004Z

For more information, call editor Bajeerah LaCava at 215-988-7731, or e-mail her at