Fiancés are Protected Under Title VII – The Supreme Court Recognizes Third-Party Retaliation Claims in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP
Lynne M. Woundy
In 2009, the Sixth Circuit in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP (Thompson I) addressed the issue of third‐party retaliation claims and held that an employee cannot bring a claim of retaliation based on the protected activity of another if the employee did not personally engage in protected activity. The Supreme Court recently reversed this decision, holding that the employee does have a recognizable claim under Title VII. The plaintiff in the case alleged that he was terminated because his fiancée filed a sex discrimination claim against their mutual employer. According to the Supreme Court, the unlawful conduct was against the plaintiff’s fiancée, and because such conduct would dissuade his fiancée from bringing a claim under the Act, the employer violated Title VII. By addressing the issue in terms of retaliation against the fiancée, the Court avoided the difficult question of whether the plaintiff himself was required to engage in protected activity. The Supreme Court simply held that Thompson could sue based on the employer’s retaliation against his fiancée because he was harmed by the retaliation. Although this decision poses many unanswered questions about the extent of third‐party retaliation claims, employees can now be assured that they will be protected against employer retaliation based on the protected activity of another as long as the relationship is sufficiently close.