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Supreme Court Decision Allows Fiancé To Bring Suit For Retaliatory Firing

A unanimous decision this year by the Supreme Court makes it illegal to fire a close family member, such as a spouse or fiancé, in retaliation for bringing a discrimination claim.

The case arose when a female supervisor at North American Stainless (NAS) filed a discrimination claim with U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The woman, Miriam Regalado, alleged NAS was not giving her the same raises as her male co-workers. Three weeks after the EEOC notified the company of the claim, NAS fired her fiancé, Eric Thompson, whom she had met while employed there. Thompson then filed his own discrimination claim alleging NAS illegally fired him in retaliation for Regalado’s claim.

The Supreme Court decided two issues in this case that expands discrimination protection for workers:

  • Firing a spouse in retaliation for bringing a discrimination suit is unlawful
  • An employee who is fired because of a close relative’s discrimination claim can bring his or her own suit against the employer

Retaliation Firings Unlawful

Federal law prohibits discrimination against an employee because he or she filed a complaint with the EEOC. The Supreme Court noted that discrimination includes anything that affects the status of an employee who has filed a claim. The court held that it was obvious a reasonable worker might be deterred from filing a claim if she knew that her fiancé would be fired.

The Court purposefully did not elaborate, however, what relationships counted as an unlawful firing. For example, if the company had fired a good friend and co-worker as retaliation for her discrimination, would that be unlawful? Justice Scalia, who wrote the opinion, only held that “firing a close family member will almost always” be unlawful, while “inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never . . . but beyond that we are reluctant to generalize.”

Fired Close Relatives Can Now Bring a Claim

The Supreme Court also held that Thompson could bring a claim under Federal law for his own firing. The court found that because the whole point of firing Thompson was to punish Regalado, federal anti-discrimination laws protect him. The case is now back in lower court.

If you have questions or concerns with discrimination in the workplace, contact an employment law attorney to discuss your options.