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Fifth Circuit Says Third Party Cannot Sue for Retaliation Under Title VII

    Client Alerts
  • August 31, 2020

In its 2011 North American Stainless decision, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that an engaged man could sue for retaliation under Title VII after he was fired around the time his fiancée filed a discrimination claim against their employer. Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to extend this right to a non-employee third party who alleged that he was the subject of retaliation after his daughter filed a claim against her employer.

In Simmons v. UBS Financial Services, Inc., the plaintiff was employed by a third-party wholesaler of life insurance products to UBS. He alleged that after his daughter’s pregnancy discrimination claim against UBS, the company essentially froze him out of doing business with them, resulting in the loss of his job. He sued, claiming retaliation under Title VII.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court distinguished North American Stainless from this situation, noting in that case, the fiancée was employed by the same company as the complaining employee. Therefore, he fell within the zone of interests protected under Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision. Title VII has never been interpreted to provide non-employees with a right to sue a company for discrimination or retaliation. Although allowing such suits might advance the purposes of Title VII, only Congress can amend the law to extend its reach to non-employees.

This decision does not mean that employers are immune from retaliation claims based on alleged actions toward third parties. While those third parties may not be able to sue under Title VII, they could assert various state law unfair trade practice claims. In addition, complaining employees could also claim retaliation due to actions taken against their relatives.