Supreme Court Broadens Retaliation Lawsuits Under Title VII

The U.S. Supreme Court has just decided that an employer cannot “get back” at an employee who has complained about discrimination by going after other employees related to, or in a close relationship with, the complaining employee. By ruling in favor of a man who was fired after his fiancée complained about alleged sex discrimination at the same company, the Court’s decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP has expanded Title VII anti-retaliation jurisprudence to encompass employees who themselves do not engage in “protected activity” as defined by the statute. Finding that the fiancée fell within the “zone of interests” of protection afforded by Title VII, he thus qualified as a “person aggrieved with standing to sue.” The decision is significant for employers because it establishes important precedent authorizing retaliation claims by employees other than the employee who made the original complaint of discrimination. Employers should make sure that their written anti-retaliation policies make clear to managers and supervisors that, after a claim of discrimination has been made, it is against company policy to retaliate not only against the employee making the claim but against any employee related to, or in a close relationship with, the complaining party.