Menu

Supreme Court: Don't Retaliate Against One Employee to Get Back at Another

Labor & Employment   |   March 4, 2011
Download   
Share Page

Do you employ a father and son? Maybe you employ two people engaged to be married?  The United States Supreme Court has held that third party reprisals against one employee may be prohibited for complaints by another employee.

In Thompson v. North American Stainless (January 24, 2011), a female employee filed a discrimination charge against her employer with the EEOC. Less than a month later, the employer fired the charging party’s fiancĂ©, who also worked for the employer. The Court decided this could violate Title VII’s prohibitions against retaliation because a reasonable employee would be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she thought her fiancĂ© would be terminated.

The Court refused to articulate a "fixed class of relationships" that are entitled to protection. It depends on the circumstances, the Court stated. While "firing a close family member will almost always" dissuade a reasonable employee from making or supporting a charge of discrimination, "inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never do so."

What amounts to a "close family member" was not defined by the Court. And there are a wide range of relationships that fall in between close family members and acquaintances.  The employer in Thompson questioned whether girlfriends, close friends, and trusted co-workers would be protected if the Court permitted third party retaliation claims. The Court acknowledged there would be difficulty in deciding who would qualify for protection, but rejected the notion that such a concern could justify a categorical rule that third party reprisals do not violate Title VII.

The failure to identify what relationships are protected leaves some uncertainty for employers. Therefore, before taking an adverse action against an employee, the best practice is to fully consider the connection he or she may have to a different employee who has engaged in protected activity.


©2020 Carlton Fields, P.A. Carlton Fields practices law in California through Carlton Fields, LLP. Carlton Fields publications should not be construed as legal advice on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information and educational purposes only, and should not be relied on as if it were advice about a particular fact situation. The distribution of this publication is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship with Carlton Fields. This publication may not be quoted or referred to in any other publication or proceeding without the prior written consent of the firm, to be given or withheld at our discretion. To request reprint permission for any of our publications, please use our Contact Us form via the link below. The views set forth herein are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the firm. This site may contain hypertext links to information created and maintained by other entities. Carlton Fields does not control or guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this outside information, nor is the inclusion of a link to be intended as an endorsement of those outside sites.

Subscribe to Publications

Disclaimer

The information on this website is presented as a service for our clients and Internet users and is not intended to be legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. Although we welcome your inquiries, please keep in mind that merely contacting us will not establish an attorney-client relationship between us. Consequently, you should not convey any confidential information to us until a formal attorney-client relationship has been established. Please remember that electronic correspondence on the internet is not secure and that you should not include sensitive or confidential information in messages. With that in mind, we look forward to hearing from you.