Supreme Court Affirms Retaliation Protections

January 25, 2011

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court announced an 8-0 decision in an important equal pay retaliation case, Thompson v. North American Stainless. (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself due to her prior work on the case.) The plaintiff in the suit was fired after his fiancée, who works at the same company, claimed sex discrimination. As a result of this unanimous decision, the plaintiff can now sue the company for retaliation. The ruling clarifies federal protections against reprisals when workers allege discrimination. The AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund signed on to an amicus brief in support of the fired employee.

The plaintiff, Eric Thompson, and his then-fiancée Miriam Regalado, worked at North American Stainless (NAS) in Kentucky. Regalado filed a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that she was paid less than male workers and was twice demoted because of her sex. In 2003, three weeks after the EEOC notified NAS about her charge, Thompson was fired. He then sued NAS for retaliating against him and Regalado.

The lower courts initially sided against Thompson, ruling that federal law prohibiting job bias did not allow third-party retaliation claims and that because Thompson had not filed the original bias claim, he was not covered by federal protections against retaliation.

This is why the Supreme Court’s ruling is so welcome. The court found that federal protections prohibit any employer action that “well might have dissuaded a reasonable worker from making or supporting a charge of discrimination” and that Thompson was an “aggrieved” party because “injuring him was the employer’s intended means of harming [his fiancée] Regalado.” The ruling increases the scope of workers protected by federal anti-retaliation laws and affirms workers’ abilities to sue their employers for retaliation.

The Legal Advocacy Fund provides support to lawsuits that combat sex discrimination in education and the workplace. To find more information, including legal resources on sex discrimination topics, visit the LAF website.

Beth Scott By:   |   January 25, 2011

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