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Workers can sue firms over retaliation, Supreme Court rules

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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.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago agreed, reversing the previous ruling and finding that Humphries was entitled to file a retaliation suit.

Age-discrimination case

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