Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers may not retaliate against close family members of an employee who chooses to exercise their right to file discrimination charges against that employer.
The decision is the most recent in a series of cases in which the court has extended protection to employees who have been hit with retaliatory activity.
The case in question involved a woman who had filed sex-discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against her steel mill employer. Three weeks after the charges were filed and her employer found out about the investigation, her employer turned around and fired her coworker fiancé from the company.
The company disputes that it retaliated against the woman's fiancé, and claims that he was fired for poor performance and writing a derogatory memo concerning the company's management practices.
The high court noted that federal anti-retaliation law encompasses "a broad range of employer conduct" designed to dissuade a "reasonable worker" from engaging in protected activity, such as reporting sex discrimination. In this case, the court ruled that the fiancé's relationship with the woman gave him standing to file for protection under federal anti-retaliation laws.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the opinion, and noted that extending such protections to close family members will prevent employers from indirectly retaliating against an employee. But the court clearly circumscribed its ruling to close family members, and noted that targeting a mere acquaintance would "almost never" give that person standing for protection.
Source: Wall Street Journal, "Justice Scalia Pens Employee-Friendly Opinion on Retaliation," Ashby Jones, 25 Jan 2011.