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14 Jun 2021 | by devteam

The U.S. Supreme Court just expanded anti-retaliation rights, again?

Are you thinking about retaliating against one of your employees who recently filed a discrimination claim against you or your company?  The answer is that to do so would be illegal under the anti-retaliation provisions of federal and state law.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that employers should not undermine an employee’s ability to bring discrimination lawsuits by taking harmful actions toward those who are closely related to the employee in question or stand up for her in the workplace.  Wait, the US Supreme Court just expanded anti-retaliation rights again?  Yes, now an employee may be able to bring an unlawful retaliation claim if the employee was fired because of someone else’s protected activity.

Earlier this year in Thompson v. North American Stainless, two employees of the same company were engaged, and one was fired shortly after his fiancée filed a sex discrimination charge against the company.  He then filed suit under Title VII, and the U.S. Supreme Court held that if Thompson was fired because of his fiancée’s claim, it would be considered unlawful retaliation.  Therefore, Title VII discrimination claims are not limited to actions taken against the employee who engaged in protected conduct; adverse employment action against a different employee within the acting employee’s “zone of interest” is also unlawful.

What does this mean for employers?  The danger for employers is going to be figuring out exactly which relationships are protected.  The Court did not specify which relationships qualify as being within an employee’s “zone of interest,” but it did provide two bright lines:  adverse action against a close family member “will almost always” be considered unlawful retaliation, and adverse action against a mere acquaintance “will almost never” be considered unlawful.   Based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s categorization, fiancées, spouses, siblings, children, and parents appear to be within an employee’s “zone of interest.”  The outcome is not so clear for more distant family members, such as cousins, aunts, in-laws, or for other relationships such as close friends or dating partners.

Going forward, employers need to be aware that they cannot retaliate against a third-party for actions that are protected by Title VII if the third-party is closely related to the acting employee.

Daniel N. Ramirezis a named partner at Monty & Ramirez, LLP. He is board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Specialization and has been recognized as a Rising Star by Super Lawyers magazine.

Daniel’s Contact Information:

Telephone: 281.493.5529


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