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Worker Retaliation Lawsuits Broadened in Decision by U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered the ability of employees to sue for retaliation, ruling in favor of a man who was fired after his fiancée complained about alleged sex discrimination at the same company.

The justices today unanimously said that Title VII, the federal law that covers gender and racial discrimination in the workplace, protects third parties from retaliation in addition to the person pressing the original complaint.

The anti-retaliation provision in Title VII is “worded broadly,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court. “We think it obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé would be fired,” he wrote.

The ruling lets Eric L. Thompson press ahead with a lawsuit against his former employer, North American Stainless LP. Thompson was fired in 2003, three weeks after the company learned that his fiancée, Miriam Regalado, had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and claimed she had suffered discrimination by her supervisor.

Both Thompson and Regalado had worked in the company’s stainless steel manufacturing plant in Carroll County, Kentucky. Thompson was a metallurgical engineer, according to court papers.

“Accepting the facts as alleged, Thompson is not an accidental victim of the retaliation -- collateral damage, so to speak of the employer’s unlawful act,” Scalia wrote. “To the contrary, injuring him was the employer’s intended means of harming Regalado.”

A federal appeals court had barred the suit from going forward. The Obama administration backed Thompson in the case.

The case is Thompson v. North American Stainless, 09-291.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net.

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