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Third party can sue for retaliation under discrimination law

Title VII of the 1964 U.S. Civil Rights Act prohibits an employer from discriminating against its workers because of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. An employers may not retaliate against an employee who charges their employer with discrimination under Title VII or if an employer takes actions that would dissuade a reasonable worker from making discrimination charges under this law.

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court also expanded the scope of Title VII when it ruled that an employer cannot retaliate against the fiancée of an employee that made a charge of discrimination. In that case, the employer fired the fiancée of the worker who made the discrimination claim. The fiancée was also an employee of that company. The Court found that it was obvious that a reasonable employee would be reluctant from making or supporting a discrimination charge if their employer fired or took other employment action against the fiancé.

The worker's fiancée in this case, according to the Court, falls within the zone of interest that receives Title VII protection. Accordingly, the fiancée may file his civil lawsuit alleging retaliation under this law because Title VII was intended to protect him against retaliation.

Furthermore, if the fact of the charges are true, the fiancée was not an accidental retaliation victim. The employer retaliated against him with the purpose of punishing the worker who filed the discrimination claim against it.

The Court did not establish a general category of relationships where third-party reprisals are illegal. Firing a close family member would most certainly constitute unlawful retaliation. Imposing a mild reprisal on an employee's acquaintance will not likely be prohibited.

These business disputes may be avoided if employers seek legal advice on behavior that is prohibited by federal and Minnesota laws and train their workers. Where employment disputes occur, legal assistance may mitigate or eliminate the sanctions on the penalties that may be imposed.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court, "Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 562 U.S.___ (2011)," Retrieved April 27, 2015

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