A few years ago, a plaintiff and his fiancé both worked for the same company. The fiancé filed a sex discrimination claim against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC).   Within a month, the company fired the plaintiff, who subsequently brought a lawsuit against the company, alleging that his termination was in retaliation for his fiancé filing a claim with the EEOC earlier.   He claimed that his firing was retaliatory and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lower courts ruled against the fiancé, deciding that the company did not violate Title VII because third-party retaliation is not covered, but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed those decisions. It unanimously sided with him, asserting that third-party retaliation is, in fact, covered by Title VII.

The Supreme Court concluded that the company’s firing of the plaintiff was unlawful retaliation because “a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from” bringing any complaint against discriminatory practices if they knew their family members would be affected. The employer argued that this would lead to difficult employment decisions. They would be at risk of seeming discriminatory every time they fire an employee with a connection to a co-worker who has contested working conditions. The Supreme Court ultimately explained that firing someone who has an intimate connection to the employee who filed a claim, whether that be familial, romantic, or another type of close relationship, is unlawful. But that protection does not extend to a colleague. In other words, the more serious the relationship, the more protection is granted.

Posted February 23, 2015