Another 'third-party' retaliation case gets green light

Remember that recent Supreme Court ruling that individuals who are closely related to an employee who’s engaged in protected activity are allowed to sue for retaliation? The issue’s back in federal court.
This time, the case involves two police officers in Houston. Lt. Manuel Zamora filed a race discrimination complaint against the city PD; subsequently, both he and his son, officer Christopher Zamora, were transferred to what both alleged were less desirable assignments.
The two sued the city, arguing they were victims of discrimination, disparate treatment and retaliation. The federal district court dismissed the case, saying the two couldn’t prove their claims.
That decision predated the Supreme Court ruling, however.
So in May, an appeals court took a new look at the case. The district court had ruled the son had no grounds to claim retaliation because he hadn’t been the person who filed the race bias complaint.
But the Supreme Court’s decision to extend retaliation protection to close family members with the same employer changed all that.
So while his other claims have been dismissed, Christopher now may reopen his retaliation lawsuit against the  city.
The case is Zamora v. City of Houston. For a look at the appeals court decision, go here.
How we got here
A short refresher course on the new third-party retaliation protection — a development that certainly makes employers more vulnerable to employee lawsuits.
Eric Thompson and Miriam Regalado met through their work at North American Stainless in Kentucky. They began dating and eventually were engaged to be married, a fact that was common knowledge throughout the company.
Then Regalado filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging she’d been discriminated against on account of her gender. Three weeks after the company was notified of the complaint, North American Stainless fired Thompson.
Thompson filed suit, saying he’d been fired because his fiance filed a bias complaint — a claim described by lawyers as “associational retaliation.”
In court, the company argued he’d been sacked for performance reasons.
In the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia said it was clear that Regalado was the true target of the company’s actions. “Injuring (Thompson) was the employer’s intended means of harming (her). … In those circumstances, we think Thompson well within the zone of interests protected” under federal laws against discrimination, Scalia wrote.
And exactly who will fall under the new umbrella of protection? In the decision, Justice Scalia wrote that “firing a close family member will almost always meet the … standard, and inflicting a milder reprisal on a mere acquaintance will almost never do so, but beyond that we are reluctant to generalize.”