What happens if my spouse is fired for my discrimination charge?

spouse chargeIn the course of representing a client whom filed an EEOC charge for sexual harassment in the workplace, she inquired if her husband had any legal rights for potential termination as retaliation against her by the same employer.  I was not immediately familiar with third party claims arising out of title VII of the federal code.  Thompson v. N. Am. Stainless, LP, 131 S.Ct. 863 (2011) answered the question being that a third party may now prosecute an action for retaliation under title VII.  The analysis was whether a family member or close friend who was terminated or demoted fell within the protections of title VII as a result of retaliation arising out of another person filing a discrimination charge.  The Supreme Court held that such a case falls within the “zone of interests” to be protected by title VII wherein the retaliation against one person is due to another person filing a complaint.

In this particular case, Thompson’s fiancee filed a charge for sexual harassment (gender form of discrimination) with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.  Thompson was subsequently terminated by North American Stainless.  He filed an a charge with the EEOC claiming retaliation.  The EEOC recognized the facts and charge as a legitimate form of retaliation.  The district court under motion for summary judgment ruled that Thompson did not fall within the protected class of title VII being that title VII did not permit third party retaliation claims.  The sixth circuit court of appeals initially reversed the holding of the district court but then in an en banc hearing reversed holding Thompson did not engage in any particular protected activity as defined by Congress.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the sixth circuit court of appeals and reversed their holding.  The Supreme Court held there was prior precedent holding that title VII protections were to be construed broadly in that they were to encompass any form of conduct by an employer that may preempt any employee from filing a charge or complaint of discrimination.  They further held Thompson had standing as an aggrieved party being that the termination was specifically perpetrated as retaliation against his fiancee for filing her EEOC charge.

It is interesting that the Supreme Court’s holding did not limit the potential status of “aggrieved parties” to family members or spouses. There will likely be further appeals to carve out further distinctions of this case as to who has standing as a “third party.”  In fact, the Court specifically noted: “[w]e expect that firing a close family member will almost always meet the [standard], and inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never do so, but beyond that we are reluctant to generalize.”

About Roland

Roland was born in Nashville, Tennessee and raised in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. The first few years he resided in Paris, France with his mother who was French. In Hendersonville, he attended Beech Senior High School where played soccer and studied in the honors curriculum. Subsequently, he pursued two majors in political science and economics while graduating in three years.

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