U.S. Supreme Court Recognizes Third-Party Retaliation Claims

Justice Scalia for a unanimous Supreme Court wrote that employees may claim retaliation when they are associated with someone ELSE who engaged in protected activity.  What?

Miriam Regalado was engaged to Eric Thompson. They both worked for North American Stainless.  So, Miriam filed a charge with the EEOC alleging sex discrimination. NAS fired Thompson three weeks later. 

Thompson then filed a retaliation charge. But Thompson did not actually engage in protected activity. Regalado was the one who filed with the EEOC. 

So, was it retaliation under Title VII to fire Thompson?  The Supreme Court said yes. Relying on the Court's expansive definition of retaliation set forth in Burlington N. & S. F. R. Co. v. White, 548 U. S. 53 (2006),the court said:

“the antiretaliation provision, unlike the substantive provision, is not limited to discriminatory actions that affect the terms and conditions of employment.” Id., at 64. Rather, Title VII’s antiretaliation provision prohibits any employer action that “well might havedissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Id., at 68 (internal quotation marks omitted).
And of course, they found that firing a fiance "well might have dissuaded" the complainant from making or supporting a charge: NAS argued, where do you draw the line?  Trusted co-worker? Girlfriend? What third parties are close enough to the complainant.  The Court could not find any language in Title VII to support setting down a blanket rule.
We must also decline to identify a fixed class of relationships for which third-party reprisals are unlawful. We expect that firing a close family member will almost always meet the Burlington standard, and inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never do so, but beyond that we are reluctant to generalize.
The court next decided that Thompson had standing to sue under Title VII because he was a "person aggrieved."  The Court knew it was opening a can of worms to let third parties sue. So, it limited Title VII standing to those covered by the "zone of interests" Title VII seeks to protect.  Thompson was an employee at the same company as his fiance, and, most importantly, according to the complaint, the company fired him for the purpose of hiring the fiance who filed the charge.
The case is Thompson v. North American Stainless Inc. and the opinion is