At the end of its recently concluded term, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a Title VII retaliation claim filed by an employee who claimed that he was terminated in retaliation for his fiancée's EEOC sex discrimination charge filed against their mutual employer three weeks earlier. In Thompson v. North Amer. Stainless, LP, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Title VII's anti-retaliation provisions did not apply to the plaintiff because he never engaged in any protected activity. The statute defines such protected activity as opposing discrimination or participation in a discrimination complaint filed by another party.
In this case, the plaintiff argues that the anti-retaliation provision should be read to extend to those friends and family who are associated with someone who engages in protected activity. Such persons could be deterred from pursuing their rights under Title VII if they believe that relatives or others could be the subject of punitive actions by their employers. While the employee who filed the EEOC charge could clearly file a retaliation claim based on her fiancée's termination, the Court will determine whether he has an independent retaliation claim under Title VII.
In recent years, the Supreme Court has broadly read anti-retaliation provisions of federal laws, indicating very low tolerance for employers that attempt to avoid application of such laws through narrow readings of their applicability. By granting review in Thompson, the Court may be signaling its intent to apply similar reasoning to Title VII in this context. This case will be argued this Fall, with a likely decision in early 2011.