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CBOCS W., Inc. v. Humphries - 553 U.S. 442, 128 S. Ct. 1951 (2008)


The statutory text of 42 U.S.C.S. § 1981's sister statute, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1982, provides protection from retaliation for reasons related to the enforcement of the express statutory right.


Claiming that petitioner CBOCS West, Inc., dismissed him because he is black and because he complained to managers that a black co-employee was also dismissed for race-based reasons, respondent Humphries filed suit charging that CBOCS' actions violated both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the latter of which gave “all persons the same right to make and enforce contracts as is enjoyed by white citizens." The District Court dismissed the Title VII claims for failure to timely pay filing fees and granted CBOCS summary judgment on the § 1981 claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on the direct discrimination claim, but remanded for a trial on Humphries' § 1981 retaliation claim, rejecting CBOCS' argument that § 1981 did not encompass such a claim.


Did Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 encompass retaliation claims?




The Unitd States Supreme Court, in examining the interpretive history of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981, held that the same encompassed retaliation claims. According to the Court, caselaw, without mention of retaliation, narrowed § 1981 by excluding from its scope conduct, namely post-contract-formation conduct, where retaliation would most likely be found; but in 1991, Congress enacted legislation that superseded that caselaw and explicitly defined the scope of § 1981 to include post-contract-formation conduct. Since then, the Court noted that the lower courts had uniformly interpreted § 1981 as encompassing retaliation actions. In the Court's view, the employer's several arguments, taken separately or together, could not justify a departure from the well-embedded interpretation of § 1981. The Court rejected the employer's arguments that Congress did not intend its 1991 reenactment of § 1981 to cover retaliation and that § 1981, if applied to employment-related retaliation actions, would overlap with Title VII retaliation claims.

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