Supreme Court Holds That Employees' Close Family Members are Protected From Retaliation Under Title VII

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On January 24, 2011, in Thompson v. North American Stainless, L.P., __U.S. __ (2011), the United States Supreme Court held that the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”) prohibit retaliation against third-parties, such as close family members of employees who engage in protected activities under Title VII.

In Thompson, Eric Thompson (“Thompson”) filed suit against North American Stainless, L.P. (“NAS”), claiming that he was subject to an unlawful termination because his fiancée, who was also a NAS employee, had filed a charge of discrimination against NAS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). The district court dismissed the case on summary judgment finding that Title VII does not permit third-party retaliation claims. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, reasoning that because Thompson himself did not engage in a protected activity under Title VII (his fiancée did), he could not maintain a claim against NAS. The Supreme Court reversed.

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