Last Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court discussed whether a plaintiff in a retaliation case should be allowed to sue his ex-employer. The complicated matter centers around Eric Thompson and his wife, Miriam Regalado, who both worked for a Kentucky manufacturing company, North American Stainless, back in 2003. Regalado, who at the time was Thompson’s fiancé, contacted the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on February 13, 2003 to file a charge against her supervisors for gender discrimination. Less than a month later – on March 7 – the company fired her fiancé, Thompson. Thompson then headed to the EEOC and filed his own complaint… for retaliation.
At first, the lower courts dismissed Thompson’s suit for retaliation because “[he] did not himself engage in protected activity” by filing the original EEOC complaint.
Thompson’s lawyer responded to this argument as follows: “They singled out Ms. Regalado and Ms. Regalado’s fiancé. They didn’t go fire anybody else’s fiancé.”
The steel company has not argued that it might be illegal to retaliate against someone’s family or friends; rather, the company’s attorneys have raised the question of whether a person who did not suffer gender discrimination (or another kind of discrimination) should be allowed to use the discrimination laws to sue.
Justice Samuel Alito worried that okaying Thompson’s right to sue would generate an onslaught of retaliation cases. If the Court ruled in favor of Thompson, would the decision instigate a flood of lawsuits from people connected to employees who complain? Alito wondered: “Does it include simply a good friend… somebody who just has lunch in the cafeteria every day with the person who engaged in the protected conduct…somebody who once dated the person who engaged in the protected conduct?”
Although the Supreme Court won’t likely decide on the case until 2011, industry analysts and blogs related to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation have been heatedly debating the case’s pros and cons.
If you or a friend or coworker has been on the receiving end of workplace discrimination, harassment or other mistreatment – or if you have been terminated or demoted for filing a claim with the EEOC or making a complaint to a supervisor – the law firm of Joseph & Kirschenbaum (JHLLP) can help. Learn your rights and get a free and totally confidential case evaluation: explore details at www.jhllp.com, or call (212) 688-5640.