U.S. Supreme Court

Justices Debate Line Drawing in Retaliation Suit by Fired Fiancé

Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday where to draw the line on retaliation complaints.

The suit before the court was filed by Eric Thompson, who was fired after his fiancée filed a discrimination complaint against their mutual employer, the Washington Post reports.

The woman who complained of bias, Miriam Regalado, would be protected from retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and Thompson says he should be protected too. The law covers workers who have opposed, charged or testified about discrimination and allows lawsuits by “aggrieved persons,” according to National Law Journal reporter Marcia Coyle, who participated in a Q-and-A with PBS.

Thompson’s lawyer, University of Washington law professor Eric Schnapper, argued on Tuesday that family members and close associates of people who make discrimination complaints should be protected from retaliation under the law.

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked how far the protections could extend, according to the Post account. “Does it include simply a good friend?” Alito asked. “Does it include somebody who just has lunch in the cafeteria every day with the person who engaged in the protected conduct? Somebody who once dated the person who engaged in the protected conduct?” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia also appeared concerned about line-drawing, according to the NLJ’s Coyle.

Coyle tells PBS the case is a big one for both workers and employers. “Retaliation complaints are the fastest growing category of discrimination complaints today,” she said. “Employers fear a ruling by the court against the company would trigger a new round of retaliation lawsuits by individuals who don’t have a close association with a worker who reported discrimination.”

The case is Thompson v. North American Stainless.

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