Does firing an employee whose fiancée accused the company of sex discrimination violate the employee’s civil rights?

In a recent decision, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted an employee to sue the company that fired him on the grounds that the firing was in retaliation for his fiancée’s claim of sex discrimination against the company.

Eric Thompson and his fiancée Miriam Regalado each worked for North American Stainless (NAS).  In February 2003, Regalado filed charges of sex discrimination against NAS with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  Three weeks later, NAS fired Eric Thompson.  As a result, Thompson sued NAS under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for unlawfully firing him in retaliation for the charges brought by Regalado.  Per the Supreme Court, the case raised two important questions: 1) Did NAS’s firing of Thompson constitute unlawful retaliation? 2) If so, could Thompson sue NAS under Title VII?

The Supreme Court held that NAS’s firing of Thompson was unlawful retaliation.  Title VII prohibits employers from taking action that might discourage a reasonable worker from making or supporting claims of discrimination.  The Court believed it “obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew her fiancée would be fired.”  Thus, NAS’s firing of Thompson was in retaliation for Regalado’s charges of sex discrimination against it.  The Supreme Court also held that Thompson was permitted to sue NAS under Title VII.  The Court found that NAS sought to harm Regalado by firing Thompson, which placed Thompson within the “zone of interests” sought to be protected by Title VII.  Specifically, Thompson had an interest in being protected from NAS’s unlawful actions which were intended to harm Thompson and punish Regalado.  As a result, Thompson qualified as an “aggrieved person” under the statute and was permitted to sue NAS.  Download ERIC L. THOMPSON, PETITIONER v. NORTH AMERICAN STAINLESS, LP

This decision demonstrates the extent to which Title VII protects employees that are directly or indirectly affected by the unlawful actions of their employers.

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