The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled, in an 8-0 decision, that retaliation claims aren’t limited to the employee who actually engaged in protected conduct.
The case, Thompson v. North American Stainless, involved a woman who filed a sex bias charge against her company. The company then turned around and fired her fiance, who worked at the same company. The Supreme Court allowed the fiance’s retaliation case to proceed.
While acknowledging that prohibiting this type of third-party retaliation will likely lead to tricky questions about where to draw the line in determining which third-party relationships are protected – close friends? grandparents? – the court declined to identify a fixed class of protected relationships. Rather, the court explained, the significance of any particular act of retaliation will generally depend on the particular circumstances.
This is a disturbing development for employers, to put it mildly. We’ll be doing a webinar with Allison West, one of our favorite speakers, on April 8 to discuss what this case means for employers, and what you can do to protect yourself – stay tuned to CED for more details as we get a little closer.