WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court says companies can’t fire people simply because they are in a relationship with other employees who complain of discrimination.
The high court on Monday unanimously ruled for Eric Thompson, who was fired from a North American Stainless plant in Kentucky after his fiancee, who also worked there, filed a sex discrimination complaint.
Thompson’s fiancee and now-wife, Miriam Regalado, filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that her supervisors at a stainless steel manufacturing plant discriminated against her because of her gender. The EEOC told North American Stainless of her charge on Feb. 13, 2003.
Thompson was fired on March 7.
Thompson then went to the EEOC and complained that he had been fired because of his fiancee’s discrimination charge. But the federal courts threw out his lawsuit, saying the law “does not permit a retaliation claim by a plaintiff who did not himself engage in protected activity” by opposing an unlawful employment practice.
But Justice Antonin Scalia said in a unanimous court judgment that Thompson clearly falls under the category of people who can sue for retaliation.
“Thompson is not an accidental victim of the retaliation — collateral damage, so to speak, of the employer’s unlawful act,” Justice Scalia said. “To the contrary, injuring him was the employer’s intended means of harming Regalado. Hurting him was the unlawful act by which the employer punished her. In these circumstances, we think Thompson well within the zone of interests sought to be protected by (anti-retaliation law.) He is a person aggrieved with standing to sue.”
Thompson’s lawsuit against North American Stainless now goes back to the lower courts.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer joined in with the judgment, with Justice Ginsburg noting in a separate opinion that the EEOC’s manual says that retaliation can be “challenged by both the individual who engaged in protected activity and the relative, where both are employees.”
Justice Elena Kagan did not take part in the case because she worked on it while serving as solicitor general.
Regalado’s complaint of gender discrimination was investigated by the EEOC but it found no basis to support her charge.