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Limits of Third Party Retaliation Explored By Appellate Court

Ragan Youngblood worked for Marion Bank in Alabama as a personal assistant for seven months. She alleged the Bank’s president, Conrad Taylor, sexually harassed her and then retaliated against her when she complained. She filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. At the time, Youngblood’s father, an attorney, represented the Bank in some loan closings and was a debtor with two outstanding loans. Shortly after learning the Bank fired Youngblood, her dad met with the Bank’s Chairman to discuss the harassment and termination. He insisted the Bank re-hire her and investigate the claim. The Chairman informed the father that they believed the Bank’s president and would not be investigating. Thereafter, the Bank no longer used the father as an attorney and stopped referring legal work to him, having concluded his interests were now adversarial to the Bank’s. After the father defaulted on his two loans, the Bank went after a trust where the father was a beneficiary as was Youngblood’s uncle and brother. The three men sued the Bank for retaliation under Title VII.

The men asserted the Bank took these actions to retaliate against Youngblood because she complained and filed an EEOC charge. The men failed to allege a claim because the events occurred long after Youngblood complained of harassment. Moreover, the court found it unreasonable to infer the Bank would not have otherwise sought to recover the money owed. To be able to proceed as third-party victims of retaliation, the men had to show the Bank’s actions “might well have dissuaded a reasonable worker” from engaging in conduct protected by Title VII, and the men qualify as “persons aggrieved” under Title VII because they fall within the “zone of interests” protected by the statute. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted “it is far from obvious” that the Bank’s pursuit of recovering its debt would dissuade a reasonable employee from voicing her sexual harassment complaint. A reasonable employee would assume a relative should have to repay their large debt, according to the court. Moreover, the appellate court said it was not “immediately apparent” how precluding a lawsuit against a complaining employee’s relative to recover monies owed is a prohibition that falls within the “zone of interests” served by Title VII.

Lastly, the appellate court noted the father’s strongest claim related to the Bank ending his legal work. The father could not rebut the Bank’s assertion it stopped hiring him because of his perceived conflict of interest. In addition, the claim failed because the father was never an employee of the Bank and was never fired. Citing the Supreme Court case regarding third-party claims under Title VII, the court stated, “the purpose of Title VII is to protect employees from their employer's unlawful actions.”