U.S. Supreme Court Rules to Protect Employee’s Family from Retaliation

The Supreme Court last week ruled in a unanimous 8-0 decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which protects employees against job discrimination, forbids an employer from firing the fiancé of an employee as retaliation for her complaining about sexual discrimination.

Eric Thompson was fired a few weeks after his fiancée filed a sex discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against their mutual employer, North American Stainless. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Thompson did not have the right to bring a retaliation suit under Title VII because he was not the one targeted by sex discrimination.

But the Court reversed this decision, holding that Thompson fell within the “zone of interests protected by Title VII.”  Justices Ginsberg and Breyer in a concurring opinion emphasized that the EEOC has long stipulated that Title VII prohibits retaliation against close associates of a person seeking to file a discrimination complaint.

While the Thompson decision makes progress in protecting “persons aggrieved” by unlawful retaliation, the Court still can make great strides in other areas of employment discrimination. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights believes that the workplace should cultivate an environment that ensures equal opportunity, protects civil rights, prevents discrimination, and provides the flexibility necessary to meet family needs.