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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
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High Court Revives Fiance’s Retaliation Suit

(CN) - A metal engineer can sue his former employer for firing him after his then-fiancée, who worked for the same company, filed a complaint for sex discrimination.

The 6th Circuit dismissed Eric Thompson's lawsuit against North American Stainless because the plaintiff never claimed that he personally engaged in any protected activity, since Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is limited to plaintiffs "who have personally engaged in protected activity by opposing a practice, making a charge, or assisting or participating in an investigation."

Justice Antonin Scalia authored the unanimous high court's majority decision, reversing the lower court's split-panel ruling.

"We have little difficulty concluding that if the facts alleged by Thompson are true, then NAS's firing of Thompson violated Title VII," Scalia wrote, referring to North American Stainless.

The ruling notes that Miriam Regalado, the fiancée who is now married to Thompson, engaged in the protected activity, which directly implicated Thompson.

"We think it obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé would be fired," Scalia wrote.

The company had argued that applying that standard would open it up to lawsuits if it fired the friend or co-worker of an employee who filed a complaint. The high court did not find the argument sufficient to merit summary judgment, however.

"Although we acknowledge the force of this point, we do not think it justifies a categorical rule that third-party reprisals do not violate Title VII," Scalia wrote.

The majority opinion continues that Thompson was "well within the zone of interests sought to be protected by Title VII."

"Thompson was an employee of NAS, and the purpose of Title VII is to protect employees from their employers' unlawful actions," Scalia wrote. "Moreover, accepting the facts as alleged, Thompson is not an accidental victim of the retaliation - collateral damage, so to speak, of the employer's unlawful act. To the contrary, injuring him was the employer's intended means of harming Regalado. Hurting him was the unlawful act by which the employer punished her."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a brief concurring opinion, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer. Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the court's consideration of the case of its decision.

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