Employment Law - Title VII Does Not Extend to Third-Party Retaliation Claim by Fiancee of Discrimination Claimant - Thompson V. North American Stainless, LP

By Hegerich, Robyn M. | Suffolk University Law Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Employment Law - Title VII Does Not Extend to Third-Party Retaliation Claim by Fiancee of Discrimination Claimant - Thompson V. North American Stainless, LP


Hegerich, Robyn M., Suffolk University Law Review


Employment Law--Title VII Does Not Extend to Third-Party Retaliation Claim by Fiancee of Discrimination Claimant--Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 567 F.3d 804 (6th Cir. 2009)

Section 704(a) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) creates a cause of action for retaliation against claims of discrimination in the employment context. (1) To prevail in a Title VII retaliation claim, a plaintiff must prove that he or she engaged in Title VII protected activity, the defendant possessed knowledge of the protected activity, the defendant took an adverse employment action against the plaintiff, and a causal connection existed between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. (2) In Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, (3) the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Sixth Circuit) considered whether section 704(a) extended to a third-party retaliation claim brought by the fiancee of a discrimination claimant. (4) The Sixth Circuit held that section 704(a) of Title VII does not create a cause of action for third-party retaliation claims where the claimant has not personally engaged in protected activity. (5)

Eric Thompson and his fiancee, Miriam Regalado, worked together at North American Stainless. (6) In September 2002, Regalado filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against North American Stainless alleging gender discrimination. (7) Approximately three weeks later, North American Stainless terminated Thompson's employment. (8) Thompson subsequently filed a charge with the EEOC alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for his fiancee's EEOC charge against their joint employer. (9)

After the EEOC issued a right-to-sue letter, Thompson filed suit against North American Stainless in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. (10) North American Stainless moved for summary judgment, arguing that Thompson's retaliation claim was not a cognizable claim under section 704(a) of Title VII because he had not personally engaged in the protected activity. (11) In granting summary judgment to North American Stainless, the district court analyzed the language of Title VII and found it did not afford protection against retaliation to employees who have not themselves participated in the protected activity. (12) The district court did acknowledge that other courts had interpreted Title VII more expansively and permitted the adjudication of retaliation claims of third parties. (13) Nevertheless, the court decided that the lack of controlling law in the Sixth Circuit bound it to the unambiguous language of the statute. (14)

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit relied upon the EEOC's Compliance Manual, which provides that a person claiming retaliation need not be the individual who conducted the protected activity. (15) The court further stated that the district court's literal reading of section 704(a) defeated the purpose of Title VII. (16) In granting a rehearing en banc, the Sixth Circuit vacated its prior appellate decision and affirmed the district court's opinion. (17) In doing so, the court held that Thompson had no cause of action against North American Stainless for retaliation insomuch as Thompson did not personally engage in his fiancee's protected activity. (18)

Title VII creates a cause of action for claims of retaliation in the employment setting. (19) It prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee for opposing any unlawful employment practice or for "ma[king] a charge, testifying], assist[ing], or participating]" in an investigation against his or her employer. (20) To prevail on a retaliation claim, a plaintiff must prove that he or she engaged in protected Title VII activity, the defendant knew of the protected activity and took an adverse employment action against the plaintiff, and that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse employment action. …

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