In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Thompson v. North American Stainless decision said that it was illegal retaliation to punish the fiancé of someone who had complained about sexual harassment.
The court reasoned that by punishing the fiancé, the employer was really punishing the employee and that doing so would dissuade a reasonable employee from complaining in the first place. After all, if you knew your fiancé, brother, mother or close personal friend would be fired if you reported sexual harassment, would you report it?
But what about punishing an employee because an outsider has filed sexual harassment charges? According to a recent decision, that isn’t illegal under Title VII.
Recent case: Brian Alford worked for the Hunt County Sheriff’s Department. He learned that a co-worker was harassing someone who didn’t work for the department. Alford told the woman she could file charges, and she did. Later, Alford was terminated.
Alford sued, alleging he had been punished because the woman filed sexual harassment charges.
He argued this was retaliation—essentially claiming he was punished since his employer couldn’t punish the woman.
The court rejected his claim. It reasoned that punishing a fiancé to get at another employee was different than trying to get back at someone entirely unrelated.
In addition, the court said telling a nonemployee about her right to complain wasn’t protected activity. (Alford v. Hunt County, No. 3-11-CV-457, ND TX, 2011)