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Retaliation Ban Limits Discussed by Supreme Court

December 8, 2010

In recent news that our Chino Hills labor and employment attorneys have been following, the Supreme Court discussed retaliation ban limits this week in a case involving Eric Thompson, the fiancé of a female worker in the company who was fired days after the worker filed a sex-discrimination complaint against their mutual employer, North American Stainless plant in Kentucky.

According to the original lawsuit, Miriam Regalado, who is now married to Thompson, filed a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that she was discriminated against by her supervisors at the steel manufacturing plant because of her gender. Regalado held the rare position of being a female supervisor at the company and alleged that she had been demoted twice and wasn't receiving the same pay raises as the men in her position, based on her gender.

Three weeks after the EEOC revealed Regalado's sex-discrimination charge to North American Stainless, Thompson, who worked as a metallurgical engineer, was fired from his job.

Thompson reportedly complained to the EEOC that his employment had been terminated based on retaliation to punish his fiancée for filing a sex-discrimination complaint, and to discourage others from making similar discrimination complaints. But Thompson's lawsuit was thrown out of the federal courts because the federal law reportedly does not permit a claim of retaliation by a plaintiff who did not engage in opposing the unlawful employment practice.

The debate discussed whether anyone outside of the person who endured the discrimination can sue under federal discrimination laws. As our Anaheim labor and employment attorneys discussed in a recent blog, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is against the law for an employer to retaliate against an employee for filing a sex-discrimination claim. Title VII also prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who provides factual information that supports another employee's discrimination claim.

According to the Associated Press, Leondra R. Kruger, lawyer for the Justice Department, argued in the high court that when an employer terminates an employee's employment as a means of retaliating against a close associate or relative who has filed an EEOC charge, then the employee who has been terminated is entitled by law bring the complaint to court and seek appropriate remedies, even if he himself hasn't engaged in protected activity.

The justices reportedly debated on this third-party retaliation claim and whether allowing a fiancée to sue the company would open up a whole new area of retaliation lawsuits from any employee who is fired, or who has a connection to an employee who filed a complaint. The court is expected to decide on this case sometime in the new year.

Court to Decide Limits On Retaliation Ban, The Washington Post/The Associated Press, December 7, 2010

Six Degrees of Retaliation, Slate.com, December 7, 2010

Supreme Court Weighs Limits On Retaliation Ban, National Public Radio, December 7, 2010

Supreme Court Watch: Marcia Coyle on Workplace Discrimination Case, PBS News Hour, December 7, 2010

Related Web Resources:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (EEOC)

United States Department of Labor

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, (EEOC)