Retaliation, according to the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) must consist of three elements:
- An employee’s participation in protected activity, which typically would be filing a discrimination or harassment complaint
- An adverse action that the employer or manager takes against the employee
- A causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse reaction
The protected activity can be a direct or indirect complaint. Whether the employee’s complaint is true or not, as long as the employee believed it was true and acted in good faith, any adverse employer action could be viewed by the EEOC as retaliation.
A Landmark Case that Changed the Scope of Retaliation Claims
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case that changed how courts view retaliation. According to the International Risk Management Institute (IRMI) in the case of Thompson v. North American Stainless, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 913, No. 09–291 (Jan. 24, 2011) the Supreme Court voted unanimously to reverse the district court’s decision, which had granted a summary judgment in favor of the employer.
Details of the Case
Miriam Regalado had filed a claim with the EEOC that alleged discrimination against her by supervisors based on gender. About three weeks after her employer had received notification from the EEOC about the claim, the company terminated her fiancé Eric Thompson (who later became her husband). Thompson then filed his own claim with the EEOC and alleged that retaliation based on his fiancé’s claim was the reason for his termination.
On appeal, the appellate court ruled that anti-retaliation protection only applied to individuals who have personally engaged in protective activity or made a charge or assisted in an investigation and not to a third party. Thompson had not personally engaged in any of those protected activities.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that Thompson had a standing to bring a lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court decided that employer retaliation covered a broader scope of conduct, including action that “well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination.” Specifically, in this case, the worker might not have engaged in protected activity if she thought her fiancé would be fired.
Despite the defendant’s argument that extending claims to third parties could put employers at risk for having to defend themselves whenever firing a family member or close relation, the Court held its ground and set a new precedent in retaliation cases.
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