Appellate Court Limits Retaliation Claims

June 9, 2009 ( - Federal appellate judges handed employers a significant legal victory by limiting the rights of employees to sue over retaliation to those directly involved in a dispute - not those indirectly related to the participants.

With all members sitting as a group, the 6 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that because metallurgical engineer Eric L. Thompson was not directly involved in a sexual discrimination complaint filed against their employer by his then-fiancée and now wife, he has no legal standing to sue over his eventual termination from the company.

Thompson was discharged from Ghent, Kentucky-based North American Stainless three weeks after Miriam Regalado filed her complaint about North American with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). His lawsuit against North American claimed his firing was in retaliation for Regalado’s complaint; the company asserted it was because of performance reasons.  

The ruling in Eric L. Thompson vs. North American Stainless L.P. , approved by the court in a 9-to-6 vote, said only those involved in work activities specified in Title VII as being protected from potential employer retaliation have the right to sue.

“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,” the court wrote. “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.'”

The opinion is available here .