Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Third Parties MAY Have Right to Claim Retaliation

In a unanimous decision written by Justice Scalia, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that some third parties can sue their employers for retaliation.  Eric Thompson who was allegedly fired because his fiancĂ©e, Miriam Regalado filed a claim against their employer, North American Stainless with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) was permitted to sue North American Stainless for retaliation.   Thompson was treated as an "aggrieved person" who falls within the allowable "zone of interests."

Eric Thompson and Miriam Regalado both worked for North American Stainless and were engaged and their engagement was common knowledge among other employees.  In 2002, Regalado filed a complaint with the EEOC claiming that North American Stainless had discriminated against her, based on gender.  The EEOC notified North American Stainless of Regalado’s claims in February of 2003.
Thompson was fired about three weeks later.  Thompson alleged that his firing was due to Regalado's complaint of discrimination.  North American Stainless asserted that it terminated Thompson due to poor job performance.

Thompson filed a separate complaint with the EEOC claiming a retaliatory discharge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  The EEOC determined that there were reasonable grounds for the complaint to move forward because Thompson was an "aggrieved person" under the law.   North American Stainless challenged the EEOC’s decision.

Thompson argued that Title VII prohibits retaliation and allows a third party to sue an employer directly for damages.  Contrarily, North American Stainless argued that Thompson lacked standing to sue.
The trial court awarded summary judgment to North American Stainless saying that Thompson didn't fit within the class of persons Congress intended to protect by statute.  Thompson’s appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court was unsuccessful as the Sixth Circuit Court affirmed the lower court's ruling reasoning that the Court did not believe that Thompson was engaged in a protected activity.

In his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Supreme Court determined that plaintiffs have standing to sue if they fall within the "zone of interests" sought to be protected by the law in question.  This test permits a right of review unless "the plaintiff's interests are so marginally related to or inconsistent with the purposes implicit in the statute that it cannot reasonably be assumed that Congress intended to permit the suit."  Thompson, was an employee of the employer and the purpose of Title VII is to protect employees from unlawful actions of employers.  Utilizing this analysis, the Court said Thompson was entitled to be treated as an "aggrieved person."

Justice Scalia reasoned that firing Thompson "was the employer's intended means of harming Regalado. Hurting him was the unlawful act by which the employer punished her... He is a person aggrieved with standing to sue."  Justice Scalia called Thompson "collateral damage."

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