Supreme Court’s big retaliation ruling already a factor

April 19, 2011
in Employment Law

The ink was barely dry on the U.S. Supreme Court retaliation decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless when a federal judge considering a Florida case expanded the opinion’s reach.

In Thompson, the Supreme Court ruled that it’s illegal retaliation if an employer punishes someone who is closely related to another employee who has filed discrimination charges. (See “Supreme Court expands retaliation prohibitions.”)

In this case, the federal judge concluded that the Supreme Court’s standard—the so-called zone-of-interest test—covers punishing a third-party who works for another employer because of his relationship with someone who had filed discrimination charges.

Recent case: Kenneth McGhee worked for a health care services group and was responsible for cleaning medical facilities. The company was under contract with various medical practices, including one at which McGhee’s wife was employed.

McGhee’s wife filed complaints with the EEOC and the Florida  Commission on Human Rights, alleging that her employer discriminated against her on the basis of disability.

Kenneth McGhee was then fired from his job. He sued both his employer and his wife’s, alleging he had been fired in retaliation for his wife’s protected activities.

McGhee’s employer argued that it could not be liable for retaliation since McGhee’s wife was not one of its employees.

The judge, using the Supreme Court’s new zone-of-interest test, concluded that the lawsuit should go forward against both employers. In addition, he said McGhee also had a tortuous interference case against his wife’s employer for apparently urging the cleaning contractor to fire McGhee because of the wife’s disability claims. (McGhee, et al., v. Healthcare Services Group, et al., No. 5:10-Cv-279, ND FL, 2011)

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