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Best Wrongful Termination Attorney Answers: Can my boss retaliate against me for something a close friend did? What retaliatory discharge? Can my friends be fired if I report sexual harassment? How do I find an employment lawyer?

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We have previously posted about associational retaliation claims on this blog. But there is a new case pending in Federal Court in New Hampshire that could extend associational claims jurisprudence to include close personal friendships with co-workers.

In the seminal case Thompson v. North American Stainless. LP, Eric Thompson and his fiancée, Miriam Regalado, worked for North American Stainless (NAS). Regalado filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) alleging her supervisor discriminated against her because of her gender. The EEOC notified NAS about the complaint and three weeks later NAS fired Thompson. Thompson filed a complaint alleging NAS fired him in retaliation for Regalado’s EEOC complaint. After losing in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the United States Supreme Court ultimately agreed with Thompson and found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains anti-retaliation provisions that prohibit any employer action that might dissuade a reasonable employee from making or supporting a charge of discrimination. Further, the antiretaliation provision protects any aggrieved individual who is in the “zone of interests” of a person who participated in some protected activity. Thus, Thompson was fired because he was within Regalado’s zone of interests and was entitled to Title VII’s protections.

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However, the Supreme Court refused to provide a black-and-white definition of “zone of interests,” stating 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.”

Recently, in EEOC v. Fred Fuller Oil Co., the EEOC claims Fred Fuller constructively discharged Nichole Wilkins when he sexually assaulted her. Fuller grabbed and squeezed her breasts while he pinned her against her desk from behind. The assault was simply the end of a long and humiliating series of sexually charged comments and inappropriate touching.

Additionally, the EEOC suit alleges that Beverly Mulcahey (who was also harassed) was subject to a sexually hostile work environment created by Fuller and that Fuller retaliated against Mulcahey because of Wilkins’ EEOC charge. Mulcahey and Wilkins were close friends. Wilkins told Fuller she was going to file with the EEOC in October 2011 and within a month Mulcahey’s employment was terminated ostensibly because of alleged poor performance. Wilkins alleged that she was wrongfully terminated.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire rejected Fuller Oil’s motion for a judgment on the pleadings and held that the retaliation claim may be viable. In doing so, the court pointed out that Mulcahey and Wilkins previously worked together, Wilkins helped Mulcahey get the job at Fuller Oil, and Mulcahey had birthday and mother’s day cards from Wilkins and photos of Wilkins’ daughter and the two of them together on her desk. Moreover, Fuller was aware of their close friendship. The court stated that this type of relationship “exists somewhere in the fact-specific gray area between close friend and casual acquaintance.” This is critical because it sets up the “zone of interests” issue as a question of fact to be decided by the jury. This means that such cases will be less likely to be dismissed as a matter of law. When it appears that cases are heading to the jury for determination, the settlement value goes up.

Although the Fred Fuller Oil Co. case deals with sexual harassment, this decision can be applied to almost any type of employment case, including race, national origin, gender, age, religion and disability discrimination, among other types.

Another disturbing fact is that this isn’t Fred Fuller’s first sexual harassment rodeo. In 2005 Fred Fuller Oil settled with the EEOC for $780,000 in a case involving five women. Civil Action No. 03-cv-426-B.

Given the severity of sexual harassment involved, the temporal proximity associated with Wilkins’ complaint and Mulcahey’s termination, the close nature of the co-worker’s friendship, and the fact that Fuller is a repeat offender, this case seems primed to extend the protections afforded third parties under Title VII’s antiretaliation provision as defined in Thompson. Of course, it may very well likely settle.

Sexual harassment is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar Ohio laws. Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. If you feel that you are being sexually harassed or are working in a sexually charged or hostile working environment, you should not wait to call the right attorney at (216) 291-4744 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At The Spitz Law Firm, you will meet with a sexual harassment lawyer/hostile work environment attorney to find out what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them. Sexual harrassment is a form of gender discrimination, and employers should be held accountable if they discriminate against female workers in any fashion – but particularly for sexual harrassment. It does not matter if you have been wrongfully fired or are still employed, there is no reason to wait to find out what your legal rights are and how to protect yourself from sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this page and at this gender discrimination, wrongful termination, and sex harassment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “what should I do …”, “I’m being sexually harassed …” “my supervisor grabbed my…”, “my boss is touching…,” “I’ve been wrongfully terminated,” or “how do I …”, your best course is to contact an Ohio sexual harassment attorney/hostile work environment lawyer to obtain advice with respect to sexual harassment/hostile work environment questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at the top of this page or through this employment law website are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.