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Workers can sue firms over retaliation, Supreme Court rules

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Court declines to take more restricted approach

Both decisions are important because they affirm a trend at the high court embracing an expansive reading of civil rights laws. Some analysts had suggested that the court might adopt a more restrictive approach to such laws – making it harder for victims of discrimination to sue – after the 2006 retirement of Sandra Day O'Connor and the arrival on the court of her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito.

But that question was answered with today's decision. Justice Alito voted with the majority in both cases and authored the majority opinion in the second case, Gomez-Perez v. Potter.

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.

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.

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