January 27, 2011
Supreme Court Expands Title VII Retaliation to Persons in "Zone of Interest"
On January 24, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in the case styled Thompson v. North American Stainless, L.P, which expanded the scope of retaliation claims under Title VII. In this case, an employee and her fiance worked for the employer. The employee filed a charge of sex discrimination, and three weeks later her fiance's employment was terminated. He sued for retaliation under Title VII. The Supreme Court held that the fiance did have standing to assert the retaliation claim, even though he was not the person who had opposed the unlawful conduct in the first place, because he was in the "zone of interest" of persons intended to be protected by the statute. The Court declined to give specific instructions as to how far that "zone of interest" expands, instead leaving this to be decided on a case-by-case basis in the future. The Court did say that firing a close family member of the complaining party will almost always be sufficient to give rise to a claim, but inflicting a milder reprisal against a mere acquaintence would not. Unfortunately, most cases will probably fall somewhere in between.