Workers can sue firms over retaliation, Supreme Court rules
In two rulings Tuesday, the justices took an expansive view of civil rights law.
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In both cases, employees sued their supervisors for alleged acts of retaliation in the workplace after the workers had made initial complaints about discriminatory conduct by managers. One suit was filed under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The other was filed under the public employee section of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Neither law mentions retaliation.Skip to next paragraph
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The decision in the Humphries case involves a former assistant manager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Bradley, Ill., who was allegedly fired in retaliation for his repeated complaints about racial prejudice by his supervisor.
Hedrick Humphries, who is African-American, had worked for three years at the Cracker Barrel. In 2001, he complained to a district manager that the general manager at the Bradley restaurant made racially offensive remarks and that the general manager's termination of a black employee had been racially motivated.
The district manager took no action against the general manager. Instead, he fired Mr. Humphries based on a report that Humphries had left the store safe open overnight. Humphries denies the allegation.
Humphries filed discrimination charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under both Title VII and Section 1981. The EEOC verified his complaint and issued a letter authorizing him to file suit in federal court.
By the time Humphries filed his lawsuit, the Title VII complaint was dismissed because he missed a deadline to pay his filing fee. No such deadline exists for Section 1981 suits, so that portion of the suit survived the first challenge. But the Section 1981 complaint was later thrown out because the judge found there was insufficient evidence to support a suit.
Section 1981 is one of the oldest civil rights statutes in the nation, passed after the Civil War to force southern employers to honor employment and other contracts with newly freed slaves. Humphries argued that such a broad prohibition of discrimination would surely also outlaw acts of retaliation related to discrimination.
Ms. Gomez-Perez says that after filing her complaint she was harassed and mocked and accused of sexual harassment. She claims her work hours were substantially reduced.