Thursday, 27 January 2011

Employers Can Be Sued for Retaliating against Relative of Worker Who Files Discrimination Lawsuit

California civil rights lawyers can chalk this one up as another victory for employee rights. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers can be sued for retaliating against a relative or close associate of an employee who files a discrimination claim.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision came in the case filed by Eric Thompson. In 2002, he and his then fiancĂ©e Miriam Regalado had been working at Acerinox SA North American Stainless mill in Kentucky. In 2002, Regalado filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging gender discrimination at the company. The following year, Thompson was fired.

Thompson sued North American Stainless for violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from retaliation. North American Stainless disputes these allegations of retaliation. According to the company, Thompson was fired for poor job performance, and writing a memo to the company that was derogatory. According to the Supreme Court, Title VII in the Civil Rights Act exists to protect employees from the unlawful actions of an employer. In this case, firing Thompson was an unlawful action covered by the Civil Rights Act, even though he has not been the one who filed the original discrimination claim. The Court interpreted the protections of the Civil Rights Act broadly to protect all those persons within the “zone of interest” of the act in addition to those specifically mentioned in the law.

This is a huge victory for employees, especially in a climate where retaliation is one of the most frequent employment discrimination complaints. According to the Equal Employment Commission, in the year ending September 30, close to 100,000 discrimination complaints were filed with the agency. Retaliation accounted for the most number of complaints with 36,228 complaints.

The growth in the number of these claims could be due to the fact that the Supreme Court has consistently taken a hard line against employers who engage in retaliation. For instance, in 2009, the court held that employers could not retaliate against employees for cooperation with internal discrimination investigations.

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