WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that workers who face retaliation after complaining about race discrimination may sue their employers under an 19th Century law.
The court said in a 7-2 ruling on May 27 that retaliation is another form of intentional, unlawful discrimination that is barred by the Civil Rights Act of 1866, during the U.S. Civil War, which ended slavery in the United States. The law was enacted to benefit newly liberated black people.
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 a suit and caps the amount of money that a successful plaintiff might 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, the court's only black justice, dissented.
The case grew out of the firing of a black associate manager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Illinois. Hedrick Humphries contended 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.