In January, 2011, the United States Supreme Court, in Thompson v. North American Stainless, held that an employee can claim retaliation even for simply being associated with another employee who engaged in protected activity.
The case involved an employee of North American Stainless, Miriam Regalado, who was engaged to another employee, Eric Thompson. Three weeks after Ms. Regalado filed a charge against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging gender discrimination, Mr. Thompson was fired.
Mr. Thompson then filed a complaint of retaliation. However, in order to be a victim of retaliation, one must engage in “protected activity”. In this case, Mr. Thompson himself did not do so – rather, it was Ms. Regalado who filed the discrimination charge with the EEOC
Despite this, the Supreme Court found that the company committed unlawful discrimination when it terminated Mr. Thompson. In doing so, the Court held that firing a loved one of an employee who engaged in “protected” activity may very well dissuade a similar employee from filing such a charge. Thus, the Court concluded, the termination of Mr. Thompson was retaliation as that term has been defined in the Supreme Court’s prior cases.
In addition, the Supreme Court found that Mr. Thompson had “standing” to sue, that is, was a proper party, because he was a “person aggrieved”. In doing so, the Court noted that he was an employee at the same company as his fiancé, who had filed the original complaint of discrimination, and the company fired him for the purpose of punishing that fiancé.