Title VII “Zone of Interests” Only Includes Employees

By Carissa Davis

In Simmons v. UBS Financial Services Inc., 4:19-CV-3301 (5th Cir. August 24, 2020), the court affirmed dismissal of a complaint because Title VII does not protect nonemployees from mistreatment. The plaintiff was employed by a third-party, but he regularly worked in UBS’ office. The plaintiff’s daughter was an employee of UBS, and she complained of pregnancy discrimination. She ultimately resigned and settled her claims. Within months, UBS revoked the plaintiff’s right to access UBS’ office and forbade him from selling to UBS’ clients. As a result, the plaintiff’s actual employer had no work for him, and he left his employment.

The plaintiff sued UBS—his daughter’s employer—alleging the company retaliated against his daughter in violation of Title VII by taking adverse actions against him. The District Court granted UBS’ Motion to Dismiss, and on appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. To sue under Title VII, a plaintiff must be a “person aggrieved” by an allegedly unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1) (emphasis added). The plaintiff must assert a claim within the zone-of-interests sought to be protected by the statute. While retaliation against third parties can sometimes violate Title VII, the third party will only have standing to sue if the third party is also employed by the defending-employer.

In this case, the plaintiff’s daughter likely had a claim for retaliation. However, the plaintiff’s own interests were only “marginally related” to the purposes of Title VII—a statute designed to protect employees and applicants for employment from unlawful discrimination and retaliation. The plaintiff might still have a tort claim, but he cannot use Title VII to address mistreatment from his daughter’s employer.