In 2002, Miriam Regalado filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against North American Stainless after suffering sexual discrimination. NAS was informed of the allegation in February of 2003, and promptly fired her fiancé, Eric Thompson, a metallurgical engineer that had been employed with NAS for six years. They began dating when both were working at the plant and their relationship was common knowledge. Thompson filed a wrongful termination suit against NAS in January of 2005. (EEOC, 2011)
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prevents retaliation of those who file complaints against a company. Leigh Latherow, the attorney for NAS, argued that the firing of Thompson was not a violation of Title VII as only Regalado was protected due to her being the one that filed the lawsuit. Latherow pointed out “Eric Thompson didn’t engage in any protective conduct. He’s just associated with someone who did.” (Shields, 2011)
The US Court of Appeals for the 6th circuit agreed with NAS and the case was brought to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed the ruling. Judge Antonin Scalia wrote “We think it obvious that a reasonable worker might be dissuaded from engaging in protected activity if she knew that her fiancé would be fired”. (Scalia, 2011)
“From its inception … we recognized that it is a plain and simple issue of law. It was clear-cut. Eric Thompson was cut due to his relationship with Miriam Regalado,” Suetholz said last month. “Retaliating against a person’s loved ones is one of the oldest forms of retaliation.” (Shields, 2011)
The nation’s high court had, by its own characterization, “little difficulty” with the first question, finding that NAS’s firing of Thompson violated Title VII. The Court pointed out that, as it previously had held in Burlington N. & S. F. R. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (2006), Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision “must be construed to cover a broad range of employer conduct.” As the Court had determined in Burlington, the anti-retaliation provisions of Title VII were considerably broader than Title VII’s substantive anti-discrimination provisions. (Ginsburg, 2011)
Retaliation against those who file complaints has always been the prime weapon against civil rights. The US is passably capitalistic. Without a job, one has no income. Without income, one cannot purchase food, clothing, housing, medical care, transportation, many types of education, etc… In short, without income, one’s effective civil rights are in many ways, lost. The right to not be overcharged for something based on one’s race is irrelevant if one cannot afford the item in the first place. If one knows he or she will be punished if they take a stand, they will often refrain from taking that stand. Even if the situation is abhorrent, the retaliation for taking the stand often makes the situation even worse, to the point it’s easier to deal with the initial revulsion than it is to make the stand.
Even outside of the business world, retaliation occurs. One can be shunned socially for associating with ‘outsiders’ or for objecting to discriminatory language or actions in an out of work setting. For the reason, many keep their silence when they would rather be speaking out against injustice and discrimination.
By turning the tables and punishing those who attempt retaliation, we can seek to end this sort of behavior. We can provide those who would take a stand with the support required to take the stand. The only way to improve upon discrimination issues is to allow those who speak against discrimination a voice. If no one ever calls these issues out for correction, they will never be corrected. If a person never learns that the spelling ‘rihtt’ is wrong, they will never learn to spell right.
The EEOC press release was only a brief summary of the issue, lacking heavily in detail both on how the occurrence came about and what ramifications it will have on the business world. The EEOC attempts to keep all press releases short, factual, and too the point. Other articles involve more detail, including more human detail on the people involved.
Effort must be made in corporations not to engage in retaliation, and attempts at retaliation must be curbed as quickly as possible. Questions have been raised as to how to provide clear guidance regarding who has standing to sue, including the question of how significant the significant other must be. (Ginsburg, 2011)
The answer is simple. Don’t fire anyone in retaliation and you won’t have a problem. Don’t engage in the behavior, and you won’t have to worry about how severely you can be called on the behavior. If you retaliate against someone for making a complaint, you are in the wrong, whether you are retaliating directly or venting your bile at the person’s spouse, child, fiancé, sibling, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, coffee buddy, dog walker, or babysitter.
To create an inclusive environment, retaliation must never be allowed, under any circumstances. It is wrong to fire someone on the basis of gender, or to create a hostile environment by allowing jokes to be made at the expense of a particular ethnicity. It is also wrong to fire someone on the basis of objecting to those jokes, even if they personally are not of that particular ethnicity. Also of importance is to not punishing those who defend themselves against mistreatment, whether it is by objecting or simply by walking away. Those who engage in the mistreatment should never be rewarded for their behavior, even if it is just by the satisfaction of seeing those they were mistreating punished for objecting.
Listening to complaints is one of the best ways to get feedback for improvement. Punishing those who bring valid complaints to the table ensures that progress will stagnant. This is true if you are trying to build a better software program, a better vehicle, a better marketing campaign, or a better society.
As a manager, it is vital for inclusion and nondiscrimination to ensure both those who provide the cause for the initial complaints and those who retaliate against those who bring up the initial complaints are dealt with firmly and fairly. Such behavior must not be allowed or swept under the rug, as either option will allow for the creation of larger issues. This poor behavior leads directly to the construction of glass walls, glass ceilings, and glass elevators.
It has long been the law that direct retaliation is banned. It is important for more indirect forms of retaliation to also be eliminated. All it has ever taken for bad people to rise to power is for good people to remain silent. Retaliation forces good people to remain silent.
EEOC. (2011). Supreme Court Upholds EEOC’s Retaliation Reach. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/1-24-11.cfm
Ginsburg, R. (2011). Associational Discrimination: Supreme Court Decides Thompson v. North American Stainless. Quirky Employment Questions. Retrieved from http://quirkyemploymentquestions.com/recent-decisions/associational-discrimination-supreme-court-decides-thompson-v-north-american-stainless/
Scalia, A. (2011). Thompson vs North American Stainless. Cornell University Law School. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/09-291.ZO.html
Shields, E. (2011). U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of former NAS employee. Madison Courier. Retrieved from http://madisoncourier.com/main.asp?SectionID=178&SubSectionID=286&ArticleID=60900
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