EEOC antiretaliation ruling probably has implications for FMLA

The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that an employee who was fired in retaliation for his fiancé’s sex discrimination complaint may sue his employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because the Family Medical Leave Act has a similar antiretaliation provision, family members and fiancées would likely be similarly protected under the FMLA.

The engaged couple were both employees of North American Stainless, LP. The employee’s fiancé filed a sex discrimination complaint against the employer with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Three weeks after the employer received notice of the sex discrimination complaint, the employee not the fiancé was fired. The employee then filed an antiretaliation complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. The federal district court ruled in favor of the employer, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in favor of employer. The case was then heard at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found in favor of the employee explaining that even though the employee did not file the original complaint he was still deemed a “person aggrieved” under Title VII. The Court said the employer tried to punish the employee’s fiancé by firing him instead. While not every relationship is protected under the antiretaliation provision, the Court ruled that a close family member or fiancée is protected.

The Family Medical Leave Act has a similar antiretaliation provision and it seems that third parties (close family members) would be similarly protected against retaliation claims under the FMLA. It seems that employers can no longer indirectly punish employees who submit a complaint under Title VII or the FMLA by firing their close family member.

Source: hr.blr.com, “Supreme Court decisions widens scope of third party retaliation claims,” 2/23/11

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