Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Cases Challenging Arizona Immigration Law, Third-Party Retaliation Claims
This week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide two additional employment-related cases for the next judicial term. On Monday, the Court announced that it will hear arguments in Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. of Am. V. Candelaria, in which the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld (pdf) the Legal Arizona Workers Act, Arizona’s immigration law mandating the use of the E-Verify employment verification system, and permitting the state to suspend or revoke employers’ business licenses if they knowingly hire undocumented workers. The question before the Court is whether these requirements are preempted by federal law, and therefore invalid.
On Tuesday, the Court agreed to decide how far Title VII’s ban of employment retaliation extends. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids an employer from retaliating against an employee because he or she engaged in certain protected activity. The questions presented in Thompson v. North American Stainless (pdf) are whether Title VII prevents an employer from taking adverse actions against a third party, such as a spouse, family member or fiancée, who is closely associated with the employee who engaged in the protected activity at issue, and if so, whether that third party can bring his or her own suit against the employer? In Thompson, the plaintiff and his fiancée worked at the same company. The fiancée filed a charge of sex discrimination against the employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Shortly thereafter, the company terminated the plaintiff, who subsequently filed suit alleging he had been illegally retaliated against because his fiancée had filed a discrimination complaint. A divided Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately found that Title VII “does not permit a retaliation claim by a plaintiff who did not himself engage in protected activity.” If the Supreme Court disagrees, it is possible that employers could face an increase in third-party retaliation claims.