Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that could broaden the scope of federal antidiscrimination laws as they relate to retaliation in the workplace. In the case (Thompson v. North American Stainless), an employee is suing his employer for third-party retaliation.
In 1997, Eric Thompson was hired as an engineer by North American Stainless. In 2000, the company hired Miriam Regalado. Thompson began dating Regalado and became engaged to marry her in 2002. In September of that year, Regalado filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against North American Stainless through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Three weeks after the company was notified of the lawsuit, it fired Thompson. Following the termination, Thompson filed his own lawsuit against the company. Thompson claimed that he was fired in retaliation for Regalado’s lawsuit.
In the subsequent litigation, the company argued that Thompson could not sue for retaliation because federal law does not prohibit firing an employee for the protected activity of his fiancee. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the company, finding that Thompson had no legal grounds on which to sue. Thompson appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled on a different aspect of third-party retaliation.
In that case (Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville), the Supreme Court found that an employee could pursue her lawsuit against her employer after being fired for giving evidence in a coworker’s sexual harassment suit. (A jury ultimately found in favor of Crawford and awarded her $1.5 million in damages and back pay.)