Supreme Court: “Employee Who Never Complained Of Discrimination May Bring Claim For Retaliation”

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Today, the Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling determined that an employee who does not directly engage in protected activity can still assert a claim for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as a victim who falls within the “zone of interests” of protection afforded by the statute. Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia stated “[w]e think it obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé would be fired.” And further, that the employee “is a person aggrieved with standing to sue.” Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP.

Who Is “A Person Aggrieved”?

Eric Thompson and his fiancée, Miriam Regalado, both worked for North American Stainless. In September 2002, Regalado filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that she was discriminated against because of her gender. On February 13, 2003, the EEOC notified North American Stainless of Regalado’s charge. Approximately three weeks later, Thompson was terminated from employment. He and Regalado were engaged at the time of his termination. The engagement was common knowledge in the workplace.

Thompson, who admittedly never took part in any protected activity on behalf of himself, his fiancée or any other employee, claimed that he was terminated because Regalado filed a charge of discrimination. The company maintained that it terminated him for performance reasons. Thompson in turn filed his own charge with the EEOC claiming retaliatory discharge under Title VII. The Commission found “reasonable cause” to determine that the company’s termination of Thompson violated Title VII, i.e. that Thompson was a “person aggrieved” under the statute. Regalado never filed suit against North American Stainless for alleged violations of Title VII on behalf of herself or Thompson. North American Stainless challenged Thompson’s right to sue claiming that he lacked standing under Title VII.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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