[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday in Thompson v. North American Stainless [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a third party can sue his employer for retaliation. Eric Thompson was fired from North American Stainless (NAS) [official website] after the company learned that his fiancee, Miriam Regalado, had filed an action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [materials] alleging sex discrimination. The court granted certiorari [JURIST report] to determine if Thompson could file a claim under the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII even though he was not the individual directly aggrieved by the sex discrimination and, if so, if he had standing to file a claim. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky and the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit both determined that the statute “does not permit third party retaliation claims.” The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, reversed and remanded stating that the language of the Title VII anti-retaliation provision, which makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against “any of his employees” for engaging in protected conduct, was broad enough to include the firing of Thompson. The court further determined that Thompson had standing to sue under Article III [text] because he was directly aggrieved by the employer’s action:
[A]ccepting the facts as alleged, Thompson is not an accidental victim of the retaliation – collateral damage, so to speak, of the employer’s unlawful act. To the contrary, injuring him was the employer’s intended means of harming Regalado. Hurting him was the unlawful act by which the employer punished her. In those circumstances, we think Thompson well within the zone of interests sought to be protected by Title VII.
Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg wrote a concurring opinion joined by Justice Stephen Breyer in which she pointed out that this view of the anti-retaliation provision was previously endorsed by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) [official website] in its Compliance Manual [materials]. Justice Elena Kagan took no part in the decision.
The Supreme Court currently has other Title VII cases on its docket. Last month, the court granted certiorari [JURIST report] in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, a massive gender discrimination class action lawsuit. The court will determine whether claims for monetary relief can be certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2) [text] and whether the class certification ordered under this rule was consistent with FRCP 23(a). The case concerns an action filed in 2001 by female Wal-Mart employees alleging that the company’s nationwide policies result in lower pay for women than men in comparable positions and longer waits for management promotions than men. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld class certification [JURIST report] in April. he class is estimated to include more than 1.5 million women employed by Wal-Mart since December 26, 1998, which makes it the largest class action lawsuit in US history.