- US Supreme Court: Fiance of an Individual Who Engaged In Protected Conduct Can Sue For Retaliation
- February 4, 2011 | Author: Heidee Stoller
- Law Firm: Ater Wynne LLP - Portland Office
In Thompson v. North American Stainless, the US Supreme Court last week held that the fiancé of an individual who filed an EEOC complaint could bring a claim for retaliation under Title VII.
In this case, the plaintiff was terminated three weeks after the EEOC notified his employer that his fiancé had filed a charge alleging sex discrimination against that employer. The plaintiff sued, alleging that the employer fired him in retaliation for his fiancé’s actions. The Sixth Circuit held that he did not engage in activity protected by the antiretaliation provision of Title VII, and therefore was not part of the class of persons for protected by the law.
In a unanimous opinion written by Justice Scalia, the Supreme Court overruled the Sixth Circuit and held that the plaintiff had alleged facts sufficient to state a retaliation claim under Title VII. The Court noted that the Supreme Court had previously held that the Title VII antiretaliation provision prohibits “any employer action that well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” The Court held that it is “obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé would be fired.” While the Court did not “identify a fixed class of relationships for which third-party reprisals are unlawful,” it noted that firing a close family member would almost always qualify, whereas “inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never do so.”
The Court also clarified the question of who may sue under Title VII, which allows civil actions to be brought by “the person claiming to be aggrieved.” The Court rejected an argument that this language should be construed as allowing anyone with Article III standing to bring a claim. The Court instead applied the test from the Administrative Procedures Act, “under which a plaintiff may not sue unless he falls within the zone of interests sought to be protected by the statutory provision whose violation forms the legal basis for his complaint.”