This year, the Supreme Court allowed an employee to sue his employer for retaliation based on his fiancée’s discrimination complaint. See Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP 131 S.Ct. 864 (2011). North American Stainless fired Eric Thompson just three weeks after receiving notice of a charge of discrimination filed by his co-worker and fiancé Mariam Regalado. Mr. Thompson filed his own charge of discrimination and later sued the company, claiming that he had been fired in retaliation for his fiancée’s original discrimination complaint. The Court did not identify the specific relationships which could form the basis for a retaliation claim but said that firing a close family member will almost always rise to that level, “while a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never do so.”
After the Thompson decision, an appellate court in Texas (Zamora v. Houston, 5th Cir., No. 10-20625, unpublished opinion 5/12/11), reversed the dismissal of Christopher Zamora’s retaliation claim against his employer that relied on his co-worker father’s discrimination charge as the basis for his firing. The Thompson opinion had not been issued at the time of the dismissal ruling. Now, the appellate court said that Mr. Zamora’s claim falls within the “close family member” language.
Still unclear is who is a “close family member” and will have the right to sue. A charging party’s son/daughter may be covered. Thompson illustrates that a charging party’s fiancé is covered. How about employees who are dating?
In light of these cases, employers should review their policies and procedures regarding treatment of spouses, fiancés, partners, close friends, etc. Employers may want to consider making a note of employees’ inter-company familial or romantic relationships so that it can fully assess the risks when reviewing a proposed disciplinary or termination action against an employee.