The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that workers who face retaliation after complaining about race discrimination may sue their employers under a Civil War-era law.
The court said in a 7-2 ruling that retaliation is another form of intentional, unlawful discrimination that is barred by the Civil Rights Act of 1866. It was enacted to benefit newly freed blacks.
Business groups objected that the law does not expressly prohibit retaliation and said employees should have to file suit under another law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law has a shorter deadline for filing suit and caps the amount of money that a successful plaintiff may recover.
The Bush administration was on the side of the workers.
The provision of the 1866 law, known as section 1981, does not explicitly mention retaliation.
But Justice Stephen Breyer, in his majority opinion, said that previous Supreme Court decisions and congressional action make clear that retaliation is covered.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The case grew out of the firing of a black associate manager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Bradley, Ill. Hedrick Humphries claimed he was fired after he complained about race discrimination by other Cracker Barrel supervisors.