U.S. Supreme Court Allows Lawsuit By Employee Who Claimed He Was Fired In Retaliation For His Fiancée's Discrimination Complaint

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On January 24, 2011, the United States Supreme Court held in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP that an employee who claimed he was fired in retaliation for his fiancée's discrimination complaint could pursue a claim against their mutual employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In 2003, both Eric Thompson and his fiancée, Miriam Regalado, were employed by North American Stainless, LP (“NAS”). In February 2003, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) notified NAS that Regalado had filed a Charge against the Company alleging sex discrimination. Three weeks later, NAS fired Thompson. Thompson then filed suit, alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for his fiancée's EEOC Complaint.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that Thompson could pursue his Title VII retaliation claim against NAS. The Court first determined that the alleged conduct was prohibited by Title VII. In doing so, the Court explained that Title VII?s anti-retaliation provision has been interpreted broadly, and prohibits any act that would “have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Applying that rule, the Court held that a reasonable employee would be dissuaded from making a protected complaint if she knew that her fiancé would be fired as a result. Thus, the conduct alleged by Thompson, if true, would constitute unlawful “retaliation” under Title VII. However, the Court declined to say how closely related the plaintiff would have be to the complaining employee for an adverse action to be considered retaliation, leaving some uncertainty as to how broadly this rule will be applied in the future.

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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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