Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Employment Law Case of the Year

I suspect the clear favorite in the race for employment law Case of the Year is Walmart v. Dukes. It was a big win for employers, received tons of media hype, and affected a 7-figure class of employees. It's not my Case of the Year though. Why? The truth is that most employers aren't terribly concerned with nationwide class actions, brought by millions of employees, based on decisions by thousands of supervisors. 

A far more common scenario involves an employee who engages in protected activity such as raising a discrimination claim. This year the Supreme Court recognized that the employee who engaged in the protected activity is not the only one who receives protection. That's huge! The case is Thompson v. North American Stainless, and its the Lawffice Space employment law Case of the Year.

The setup was simple: a woman filed a sex discrimination charge, and the employer allegedly retaliated by firing her fiance (who was also a co-worker). The unanimous Court (minus Kagan, J. who did not participate) gave us two important holdings. First, firing the fiance is unlawful retaliation. Second, the fiance can bring his own claim for retaliation.

One exciting aspect of this case for lawyers is that it generated more questions than answers (see my post on ELinfonet: Supreme Court Holds that 3rd Party Retaliation Exists . . . but When?). We know that firing the fiance is bad . . . but what about firing the girlfriend? Disciplining the wife? Suspending the fiance without pay for 3 months? Courts will be defining the contours of the relationships protected from retaliation for years.

What do you think? Did I nail it? Do you have a better case? Drop a comment, or hit me on twitter @PhilipMiles or @LawfficeSpace.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.

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