U.S. Supreme Court Widens the Scope of Retaliation Claims under Title VII

by McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC
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This post was contributed by Anthony D. Dick, Esq., an Associate and a member of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC's Labor and Employment Practice Group in Columbus, Ohio.

The number of retaliation-based charges of discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC") has doubled from approximately 18,000 to 36,000 in the last ten years. Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that surely will cause this trend to continue. In a unanimous decision, the Court held in Thompson v. North American Stainless that an employee who claimed he was terminated because his fiancée engaged in protected activity, could bring a retaliation claim against their mutual employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII").

Plaintiff Eric Thompson met and eventually became engaged to Miriam Regalado met while both worked for North American Stainless (“NAS”). Subsequently, Regalado filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, claiming NAS discriminated against her because of her sex. Approximately three weeks later, NAS fired Thompson. Thompson filed suit, alleging his termination was in retaliation for his fiancée’s protected activity.

Both the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Thompson did not have standing to sue for retaliation under Title VII because he had not engaged in any protected activity under the law. The Sixth Circuit reasoned that the plain language of Title VII did not contemplate third-party retaliation claims. The statute specifically provides that: “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any of his employees . . . because he has opposed any practice made an unlawful employment practice by this title, or because he has made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this title.”

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