On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that makes it easier for workers to sue employers who retaliate against them for reporting bias. In CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, 2008 WL 2167860 (S. Ct. May 27, 2008), the Court held that employees are not limited to the remedies found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but instead may bring claims for retaliation under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. §1981). The effect of this decision is to increase the statute of limitations for employees to file federal retaliation suits (from 90 days after receiving a Right to Sue letter under Title VII to four years under §1981), and to allow employees to avoid the caps on damages under Title VII.
Hedrick Humphries, an African American, worked as an assistant manager at a Cracker Barrel for three years prior to being terminated for a violation of company policy. Humphries filed an EEOC charge, contending that his termination was in retaliation for complaints to his supervisor that he and another African American employee were victims of racial discrimination. After obtaining a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC, Humphries filed a complaint under both Title VII and §1981 for discrimination and retaliation in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The District Court found procedural defects with Humphries’ Title VII claim, and granted summary judgment in favor of CBOCS on the §1981 claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed summery judgment on the §1981 claim, finding that §1981 provides a “broad-based prohibition” against discrimination and retaliation. On September 25, 2007, the Supreme Court granted CBOCS’s petition for certiorari.
The Supreme Court affirmed the holding of Seventh Circuit, holding that race-based retaliation claims are cognizable under §1981. Although the Court recognized that §1981’s plain language does not expressly refer to retaliation, it found substantial authority that the law provides protection against retaliation. The Court’s holding effectively gives plaintiffs more time to file retaliation claims than the time limits imposed in Title VII, and frees them from the damage caps Title VII places on jury awards.
Click here to read the full opinion.
Keesal, Young & Logan Employment Group