Title VII Provides Retaliation Claim to son Based upon Father’s Protected Activity

Two employees, a father and son, sued their employer under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, as amended (Title VII), which makes it unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for engaging in protected Title VII activity. Both the father and the son alleged that they had been subjected to adverse employment actions because of the father’s prior complaints of discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to the employer on the son’s claim, relying on earlier federal decision that had interpreted Title VII as requiring a plaintiff to allege retaliation “because of his own protected activity.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, recognizing that the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected that interpretation of Title VII just months later in the case of Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, 131 S. Ct. 863 (2011), where the high court found that a husband was entitled to bring a Title VII claim based on retaliation that he suffered because of protected Title VII activity by his wife. Relying on the Supreme Court’s holding in Thompson that Title VII permits an employee to bring a claim based on retaliation suffered because of protected activity by a “close family member” who is also a co-worker, the Fifth Circuit remanded the son’s claim for reconsideration. Employers should remember that in light of Thompson, any adverse actions taken against an employee who has complained of discrimination or against any of that employee’s family members could be grounds for a Title VII retaliation claim.

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