Further proving that Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education is more than just a Title IX case, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently relied on the decision to hold that retaliation is prohibited under 42 U.S.C. 1981, a federal civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination in the making and enforcing of contracts.
The plaintiff, Hedrick Humphries, an African American, was an associate manager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Illinois. In his complaint against the Cracker Barrel corporation, he alleges that he was fired in retaliation for complaining that disciplinary action against him and the manager's termination of a fellow African-American employee were racially motivated. (In addition to suing under 1981, he also brought a Title VII claim, but forfeited it for failing to press it before the district court.) The district court granted Cracker Barrel's motion for summary judgment, but the Seventh Circuit reversed.
In holding that 1981 covers retaliation, the Seventh Circuit acknowledged that its own prior precedent, which had rejected retaliation claims under 1981, was no longer good law after Jackson, the Supreme Court decision holding that Title IX protects a male coach from retaliation for complaining about inequal treatment of female athletes. Over objections from a dissenting Judge Easterbrook, a majority on the Seventh Circuit panel reasoned that "the Jackson court appears to have jettisoned our prior observation that 'retaliation and discrimination are separate wrongs.'"
The case is remanded to the district court for consideration of the merits of Hendricks's retaliation claims.