Retaliation by Association is Illegal

Gregory A. Hall

In Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, the Supreme Court held that an employee who claims he was fired in retaliation for his fiancé’s complaint of sex harassment had an actionable retaliation claim under Title VII. According to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, it is an unlawful employment practice under Title VII to terminate an employee’s “close family member” in retaliation for her engaging in protected activity, such as filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. This type of claim has been characterized as retaliation by association, since the person being retaliated against is closely associated to the person who engaged in protected EEO activity. Often employers retaliated against the person who engaged in protected activity, but in Thompson a woman filed a sex discrimination charge with the EEOC and three weeks later the employer terminated the woman’s fiancé, who also was employed by the company. The fiancé filed his own EEOC charge and filed a lawsuit, alleging that his termination was in retaliation for his fiancé’s EEOC charge. The trial court dismissed the fiancé’s case, holding that there was no cause of action under Title VII for retaliation against associated third-parties. That decision was upheld by the Sixth Circuit’s en banc decision, but the Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provisions were intended to protect against any employer action that could dissuade a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. The Court emphasized that this is an objective standard and stated that it was “obvious” a worker might be dissuaded from making or supporting a complaint of discrimination if she knew that her fiancé might be terminated in retaliation for making or supporting a complaint of discrimination. The Court warned that retaliation against a mere acquaintance would not meet this standard but declined to identify which types of relationships would. If the person retaliated against was not a close family member, but say just “a friend”, then the viability of the claim would depend on whether the evidence showed that the plaintiff was in the “zone of interest.”
If you have been retaliated against by your employer for engaging in EEO protected activity, contact Denver Employment Attorney at:
Gregory A. Hall
Denver Employment Lawyer
3570 E. 12 Avenue, Suite 200
Denver, CO 80206
Ph. 303-320-0584

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