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Federal Court Overturns Ruling in Employer Retaliation Suit

June 9, 2009
Related Topics: Harassment, Ethics, Termination, Latest News
In a decision hailed as a victory for employers, a federal appellate court ruled last week that only those who have been directly involved in protected activity under federal civil rights law, not others only associated with them, can file a retaliation claim.

According to the Friday, June 5, en banc decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Eric L. Thompson, a metallurgical engineer, and his then fiancée and now wife, Miriam Regalado, both worked for Ghent, Kentucky-based North American Stainless.

Regalado filed a sex discrimination claim against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which notified North American Stainless of the charge in February 2003.

Thompson, who had worked for the company since 1997, was terminated three weeks later. Thompson sued, claiming the termination was in retaliation for Regalado’s complaint. The company contended the termination was for performance-based reasons.

The appellate court said in its 9-6 decision in Eric L. Thompson v. North American Stainless L.P. that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, only those who engage in protected activity under the law themselves are protected against retaliation.

“In our view, the text ... is plain in its protection of a limited class of persons who are afforded the right to sue for retaliation. To be included in this class, plaintiff must show that his employer discriminated against him ‘because he has … made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under this subchapter,’ ” says the decision, quoting the statute.

“Significantly, Thompson does not claim that he engaged in any statutorily protected activity either on his own behalf or on behalf of Miriam Regalado,” said the opinion, which noted three other appellate courts have ruled similarly in other cases.

“By application of the plain language of the statute, Thompson is not included in the class of persons for whom Congress created a retaliation cause of action,” says the decision, which overturns an appellate panel’s 2008 opinion.

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail

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