U.S. Sup. Court OKs suits on retaliation in race cases


 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that workers who face retaliation after complaining about race discrimination may sue their employers under a Civil War-era law.
The court said in a 7-2 ruling that retaliation is another form of intentional, unlawful discrimination that is barred by the Civil Rights Act of 1866. It was enacted to benefit newly freed blacks.
Business groups objected that the law does not expressly prohibit retaliation and said employees should have to file suit under another law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law has a shorter deadline for filing suit and caps the amount of money that a successful plaintiff may recover.
The Bush administration was on the side of the workers.
The provision of the 1866 law, known as section 1981, does not explicitly mention retaliation.
But Justice Stephen Breyer, in his majority opinion, said that previous Supreme Court decisions and congressional action make clear that retaliation is covered.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The case grew out of the firing of a black associate manager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Bradley, Ill. Hedrick Humphries claimed he was fired after he complained about race discrimination by other Cracker Barrel supervisors.
Humphries filed a lawsuit claiming both discrimination and retaliation. Both claims were dismissed by a federal judge and only the retaliation claim was appealed.
The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Humphries could pursue his retaliation claim under section 1981. The high court upheld the appeals court ruling.
See Syllabus:
 

 

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus
CBOCS WEST, INC. v. HUMPHRIES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
No. 06–1431. Argued February 20, 2008—Decided May 27, 2008
Claiming that petitioner CBOCS West, Inc., dismissed him because he is black and because he complained to managers that a black co­employee was also dismissed for race-based reasons, respondent Humphries filed suit charging that CBOCS’ actions violated both Ti­tle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U. S. C. §1981, the lat­ter of which gives “[a]ll persons . . . the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.” The District Court dismissed the Title VII claims for failure to timely pay filingfees and granted CBOCS summary judgment on the §1981 claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed on the direct discrimination claim, but remanded for a trial on Humphries’ §1981 retaliation claim, rejectingCBOCS’ argument that §1981 did not encompass such a claim.
Held: Section 1981 encompasses retaliation claims. Pp. 2–14.
(a) Because this conclusion rests in significant part upon stare de­cisis principles, the Court examines the pertinent interpretive his­tory. (1) In 1969, Sullivan v. Little Hunting Park, Inc., 396 U. S. 229, 237, as later interpreted and relied on by Jackson v. Birmingham Bd. of Ed., 544 U. S. 167, 176, recognized that retaliation actions are en­compassed by 42 U. S. C. §1982, which provides that “[a]ll citizens . . . shall have the same right, . . . , as is enjoyed by white citizens . . . to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personalproperty.” (2) This Court has long interpreted §§1981 and 1982 alikebecause they were enacted together, have common language, andserve the same purpose of providing black citizens the same legalrights as enjoyed by other citizens. See, e.g., Runyon v. McCrary, 427
U. S. 160, 183, 197, 190. (3) In 1989, Patterson v. McLean Credit Un­ion, 491 U. S. 164, 177, without mention of retaliation, narrowed §1981 by excluding from its scope conduct occurring after formation
of the employment contract, where retaliation would most likely befound. Subsequently, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1991,which was designed to supersede Patterson, see Jones v. R. R. Don­nelley & Sons Co., 541 U. S. 369, 383, by explicitly defining §1981’sscope to include post-contract-formation conduct, §1981(b). (4) Since 1991, the Federal Courts of Appeals have uniformly interpreted §1981 as encompassing retaliation actions. Sullivan, as interpreted by Jackson, as well as a long line of related cases where the Court construes §§1981 and 1982 similarly, lead to the conclusion that theview that §1981 encompasses retaliation claims is well embedded inthe law. Stare decisis considerations strongly support the Court’s adherence to that view. Such considerations impose a considerableburden on those who would seek a different interpretation that wouldnecessarily unsettle many Court precedents. Pp. 2–8.
(b) CBOCS’ several arguments, taken separately or together, can­not justify a departure from this well-embedded interpretation of§1981. First, while CBOCS is correct that §1981’s plain text does notexpressly refer to retaliation, that alone is not sufficient to carry theday, given this Court’s long recognition that §1982 provides protec­tion against retaliation; Jackson’s recent holding that Title IX of theEducation Amendments of 1972 includes an antiretaliation remedy,despite Title IX’s failure to use the word “retaliation,” 544 U. S., at 173–174, 176; and Sullivan’s refusal to embrace a similar argument, see 396 U. S., at 241. Second, contrary to CBOCS’ assertion, Con­gress’ failure to include an explicit antiretaliation provision in its1991 amendment of §1981 does not demonstrate an intention not tocover retaliation, but is more plausibly explained by the fact that,given Sullivan and the new statutory language nullifying Patterson, there was no need to include explicit retaliation language. Third, the argument that applying §1981 to employment-related retaliation ac­tions would create an overlap with Title VII, allegedly allowing a re­taliation plaintiff to circumvent Title VII’s detailed administrativeand procedural mechanisms and thereby undermine their effective­ness, proves too much. Precisely the same kind of Title VII/§1981 “overlap” and potential circumvention exists in respect to employ­ment-related direct discrimination, yet Congress explicitly and inten­tionally created that overlap, Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415
U. S. 36, 48–49. Fourth, contrary to its arguments, CBOCS cannot find support in Burlington N. & S. F. R. Co. v. White, 548 U. S. 53, 63, and Domino’s Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U. S. 470. While Bur­lington distinguished discrimination based on status (e.g., as women or black persons) from discrimination based on conduct (e.g., whistle-blowing that leads to retaliation), it did not suggest that Congressmust separate the two in all events. Moreover, while Domino’s Pizza
language than did Sullivan, any arguable change in interpretive ap­proach would not justify reexamination of well-established prior law under stare decisis principles. Pp. 9–14.
474 F. 3d 387, affirmed.
BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,
C. J., and STEVENS, KENNEDY, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and ALITO, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined.

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