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March/1/2011

Employment Law Update

EMPLOYMENT LAW UPDATE
By Noreen DeWire Grimmick, Esq.
Hodgson Russ LLP

(From the March 2011 Newsletter)

The U.S. Supreme Court Rules That Title VII Anti-Retaliation Provisions Apply to Third Parties

In a landmark decision issued on January 24, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that, under the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII, which prohibit retaliation against employees who engage in protected conduct, a third party may bring a claim of retaliation against an employer.

In the case of Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, the plaintiff, Eric Thompson, was engaged to be married to a co-worker. Both Thompson and his fiancée, Miriam Regalado, were employed by North American Stainless when Regalado filed a claim with the EEOC against the employer alleging sex discrimination in the workplace. Three weeks later, Thompson was fired. He then brought suit against the employer, alleging his termination was a violation of Title VII.

In the Supreme Court decision, issued by Judge Scalia, the court cited its 2006 decision in Burlington Northern and Santa Fe  Railroad v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006) holding that the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII is broad, prohibiting employer action that might dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. In the Thompson case, the court extended this protection to third parties — in this case to fiancé Eric Thompson — by applying this standard. The court refused to identify a class of relationships for which third-party reprisals are unlawful.

Justice Scalia indicated that firing a close family member working for the same employer as the complainant will almost always meet the standard for third person liability under the anti-retaliation provisions; but inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance would almost never do so. The Court emphasized however that it could not articulate a general rule as to the nature of the work place relationships that meet the standard. Courts will have to analyze the merits of third person liability on a case by case basis.






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