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Can your employer fire you because your spouse stood up to its discriminatory practices?

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider this question next week when it hears arguments in Thompson v. North American Stainless.

According to court filings, in September 2002, Eric Thompson’s wife (who was his fiance at the time) filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against her employer, North American Stainless. Coincidentally, Mr. Thompson worked for North American Stainless too. Her complaint alleged that North American Stainless discriminated against her because of her sex. On February 13, 2003, the EEOC informed North American Stainless that Mr. Thompson’s wife had filed this sex discrimination complaint. Two weeks later, North American Stainless decided to fire Mr. Thompson even though it had given him a raise for good performance a few months earlier. Mr. Thompson then filed his own complaint with the EEOC for retaliation claiming that North American Stainless fired him merely because his wife had accused it of sex discrimination.

The EEOC found in Mr. Thompson’s favor. However, a federal court in Kentucky and, then, a divided federal appeals court in Ohio both found that the law permitted North American Stainless to retaliate against Mr. Thompson. These courts concluded that the law simply does not protect employees from retaliation when their spouses, or other people they’re closely associated with, complain about illegal discrimination.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in this case on December 7, 2010.

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