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U.S Supreme Court Interprets Anti-Retaliation Provision

Earlier this year, in the case, Thompson v. North American Stainless, L.P., 131 S.Ct. 863 (2011), the United States Supreme Court interpreted the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), a statute that, among other things, protects employees from retaliation for making complaints of racial, religious, national origin and sex discrimination. The Court's decision is good news for employees. The Facts. Miriam Regalado and her fiance, Eric Thompson, both worked for North American Stainless ("NAS"). Ms. Regalado filed a charge of sex discrimination against NAS, and in February 2003 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notified NAS. Three weeks later, NAS fired Mr. Thompson.

The Case. Thompson brought a Title VII retaliation suit against NAS claiming NAS fired him in retaliation for Regalado filing her discrimination complaint. NAS claimed Thompson could not bring a retaliation claim under Title VII because Regalado, not Thompson, had filed the underlying complaint of discrimination. NAS contended Title VII only protected from retaliation the person who filed a complaint of discrimination, not third parties.The Ruling. The Supreme Court, in a brief and direct opinion written by Justice Scalia, held NAS's alleged conduct was a violation of Title VII's anti-retaliation provision because the conduct might well have dissuaded a reasonable person from making a complaint if that person knew her fiance would be fired in retaliation. That still left the important question of whether Thompson, who had not filed the underlying sex discrimination complaint, could bring a case for retaliation. The Supreme Court said he could because he was an employee working for the same employer and was in the "zone of interest" sought to be protected by Title VII's anti-retaliation provision.Why The Case is Important. The decision in this case means employers cannot retaliate or threaten retaliation against relatives, fiances and others in close relationship with the victim of discrimination to scare her or others into not filing complaints of discrimination. I've had clients and potential clients ask me this very question in the past and I've had to tell them their employer was free to retaliate against the employee's relatives. Fortunately, I will now be able to give a different answer. GSF
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