Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Workers Who Make Discrimination Claims Win Victory in U.S. Supreme Court

Decisions made by the United States Supreme Court are often noteworthy and have an immediate impact on a great number of people in our country. The conclusion reached on Tuesday involving two separate lawsuits is certainly no different. The nine justices determined, by a 7-2 decision in one case and a 6-3 split in the other, that workers who face retaliation after filing discrimination claims are allowed to sue in federal court.

The Supreme Court reached back to the Reconstruction-era Civil Rights Act of 1866 as the precedent for its decision:

Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the first major anti-discrimination employment statute. This act prohibited employment discrimination based on race and color. This Act has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to protect African Americans, Asian Americans, white Americans and other groups.

While workers are clearly protected from discrimination in this Act, the point of question was whether or not employers could respond if they were angered by accusations of prejudice. As noted in an article from yesterday’s The Washington Post, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in the majority opinion that, while acts of reprisal are not specifically mentioned in the 1866 law, the idea that the act “encompasses retaliation claims is indeed well-embedded.”

Liberal civil rights groups, such as the People for the American Way, that are not often thrilled with the decisions reached by Roberts’ court are pleased with the protections given to workers in both the private and public sector. All of these workers can now go public with claims of discrimination without fear of reprisal. On the other hand, groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are worried about the effect that this decision will have on small business owners who may now hesitate to terminate the employment of a worker even when rightful cause is apparent.

Workers certainly should be protected from all types of discrimination – without exception. At the same time, employers are sometimes also the victims of false accusations that can destroy a business’ reputation. All sides need to be treated fairly and professionally in order to create the best working environment for everyone involved.

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