SUPREME COURT BANS RETALIATION UNDER SECTION 1981
The United States Supreme Court recently struck a blow for those employees who claim they were retaliated against after complaining of racial discrimination at their workplace. The case, CBOCS[Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores]West v. Humphries, arose out of treatment the plaintiff, Hedrick Humphries endured at an Illinios Cracker Barrel Restuarant. Humphries worked there for nearly three years as an assistant manager. He alleged that he was fired after he complained about allegedly discriminatory disciplinary action taken against him and another black employee. In addition, he had complained about allegedly racist remarks made by another manager. Humphries filed a lawsuit under 42 USC 1981, claiming both discrimination and retaliation. [Section 1981 prohibits race discrimination, but does not specifically mention retaliation]. Cracker Barrel argued that since Section 1981 doesn’t specifically outlaw retaliation, no cause of action for retaliation existed under the statute. Not suprisingly, business groups across the United States, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, supported Cracker Barrel. The trial judge agreed with Cracker Barrel and both the retaliation claim and discrimination claim were dismissed. Humphries elected to appeal only the dismissal of the retaliation claim. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that Section 1981 provides a cause of action for retaliation. Cracker Barrel then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, but to no avail. On June 3, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that that Section 1981 does indeed provide a cause of action for retaliation following complaints about discrimination on the basis of race. As noted by Cynthia Hyndman, Humphries attorney, the decision “…allows workers and contracting parties to go and say ‘you’re discriminating against me on the basis of race, and this isn’t right, let’s fix it’ without fear of losing their job”.