United States Supreme Court Expands Anti-Retaliation Law For Civil Rights Claims

On January 24, 2011 the United States Supreme Court issued an important decision that expanded the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VII is the primary guardian of employee rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination based on race, sex, gender, nationality, and religion.

The case was Thompson v. North American Stainless.  The plaintiff, Eric Thompson, was fired a few weeks after his fiance, who also worked for North American Stainless, filed a civil rights complaint against the company.  Mr. Thompson alleged that North American Stainless fired him to retaliate against his fiance for her civil rights complaint.

The Supreme Court identified two questions that were before it.  First, did Mr. Thompson’s firing constitute unlawful retaliation?  Second, if the firing was illegal, did Mr. Thompson have a claim under Title VII?  The Supreme Court answered “yes” to both questions.

Regarding the first question, the Court noted that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision covers a broad range of retaliatory conduct.  Retaliation can include any action that might dissuade someone from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.  So reprisals against a third party, like a fiance, rather than directly against the employee who makes the civil rights complaint, can be unlawful retaliation depending on the circumstances.

The more important question in Thompson was the second one:  Did Mr. Thompson have a claim under Title VII even though he was not the employee who filed the complaint that led to the retaliation against him?  In answering “yes” to that question, the Supreme Court applied a “zone of interests” test that has the potential to expand Title VII’s anti-retaliation prohibition beyond the employee who filed the initial civil rights complaint.  Employees claiming retaliation must demonstrate that they fall within the zone of interests that Title VII seeks to protect.  Employees will fall outside that zone of interests if their interests are unrelated to or inconsistent with Title VII’s purposes.  Any employee who falls within Title VII’s zone of interests can assert a retaliation claim, even if that employee suffered retaliation because of a civil rights complaint that was brought by someone else.

Erbe Law Firm can help with your employment law claim, including those in which you believe that you suffered retaliation because you or someone you know filed a civil rights complaint.  If you need a Des Moines employment law attorney, contact Erbe Law Firm today.


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