In June 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII"), does not extend to third parties who do not personally engage in protected activity. In Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 567 F.3d 804 (6th Cir. 2009), an employer discharged plaintiff Eric Thompson shortly after his fiancée, a co-worker, filed a gender discrimination charge against the employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Thompson sued the employer for retaliating against him in violation of Title VII, based upon the protected activity of his fiancée. The district court granted summary judgment for the employer, dismissing the lawsuit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.
The anti-retaliation provision of Title VII prohibits discrimination against any applicant or employee "because he has opposed any practice" prohibited by Title VII (emphasis added). Relying upon the plain language of Title VII, the Sixth Circuit held that the statute does not provide a cause of action for retaliation based upon protected activity undertaken by someone other than the employee engaging in the activity. In reaching this decision, the Sixth Circuit rejected Thompson's argument that Title VII's protection should extend to individuals with a close family relationship with, or similar association to, the person engaging in the protected activity.
In Thompson, the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether the anti-retaliation provision of Title VII extends beyond employees who engage in protected activity.