The Supreme Court of the United States ruled today that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended ("Title VII"), protects third party employees from retaliation in addition to the person bringing the original complaint. The ruling in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP will allow Thompson, a former employee, to move forward with a lawsuit against his former employer for terminating him three weeks after the company learned that his fiancé, who had also worked for the company, filed a complaint of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In a unanimous decision, the Court stated that a third party employee may pursue a Title VII claim because he or she falls within the "zone of interests" covered by Title VII. The Court reasoned that it is "obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé would be fired." On that basis, the Court decided that the terminated fiancé was a "person aggrieved" within the meaning of Title VII and therefore entitled to sue.
This decision affects employers in all industries, expanding the types of persons who may bring retaliation suits under Title VII. As a result, when taking any adverse employment action against employees, employers must recognize that the term "person aggrieved" is broader than solely the individual who engages in the actual protected activity.