Earlier in its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court held that employees may file claims against their employers under Title VII if they are being adversely affected due to an intent to retaliate against another employee who engaged in protected activities. In this Thompson decision, the Court said that employees within a protected zone of interests are covered under the statute's anti-retaliation provisions, even if they did not personally engage in a protected activity.
In Thompson, the plaintiff was the fiancée of an employee who complained of sexual harassment. Last month in an unpublished decision, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals applied the same reasoning to the son of an employee who filed an EEOC Charge against their common employer. In Zamora v. Houston, the plaintiff was the son of a police lieutenant who alleged that he had been transferred to a less desirable position due to his father's race discrimination claims.
The trial court originally dismissed the son's retaliation claim. On review, the Fifth Circuit reinstated the claim, concluding that close family members clearly fall under the zone of protected persons noted under Thompson.
While this decision is not surprising, the real close cases will involve retaliation claims by co-workers who are friends but not relatives of the person engaging in the protected activity. The Supreme Court has left it up to lower courts to determine the maximum extent of this protected zone of interests.