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United States Supreme Court Expands Protections Against Retaliation to Third-parties

Employees who complain about discrimination are protected against retaliation by the company. In Thompson v. North American Stainless, decided on January 24, 2011, the United State Supreme Court addressed what protections third-parties who did not make a complaint have against retaliation.

In Thompson, the male plaintiff and his then-fiancé both worked for the company. The woman filed a charge of sexual harassment in February 2003. Just three weeks later, the man was fired, which he alleged was in punishment for his fiance's complaint of sexual harassment.

The Supreme Court ruled that the male had a valid claim of retaliation against the company, even though he was not the person who made the complaint of discrimination. The Court, in a decision written by Justice Scalia, held that it was "obvious" that the conduct alleged would violate the laws against retaliation, since the man was "not an accidental victim of the retaliation," but rather was targeted to punish his fiancé for complaining about discrimination.

The Thompson decision, which reversed the courts below, stands as a remarkable expansion of the protections against retaliation. The Court recommended caution in ensuring that the protections not be extended too far, holding that only persons who are in the "zone of interest" of the statute are protected by that statute.

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