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An unexpected blend of liberal and conservative Supreme Court justices gave workers more leeway Tuesday to sue when they face retaliation after complaining about discrimination in the workplace.

In two employment cases, one involving race and the other, age, the court took an expansive view of workers' rights and avoided the narrow, ideology-based decisions that marked its previous term.

The justices read parts of an 1860s civil rights act and the main anti-age bias law to include the right to sue over reprisals even though neither provision expressly prohibits retaliation.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court in a case involving a black employee at a Cracker Barrel restaurant who was fired, said that previous Supreme Court decisions and congressional action make clear that retaliation is covered.

The idea that a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, known as section 1981, "encompasses retaliation claims is indeed well-embedded in the law," Breyer said in the 7-2 ruling.


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