Congress has provided explicit protection against retaliation in two major federal statutes. One is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race and sex. The other is the provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act that applies in the private sector.
But there is no such explicit protection in the portion of the age discrimination law that applies to federal government workers. Nor is there explicit language in a post-Civil War era statute that gives “all persons” the same right “as is enjoyed by white citizens” when it comes to making and enforcing contracts, such as contracts of employment. Those were the two statutes that the court interpreted on Tuesday.
In the first case, Gómez-Pérez v. Potter, the Court ruled in favor of Ms. Myrna Gómez-Pérez, who became a target for retaliation by her employer, the U.S. Postal Service, after she complained that she had been denied a transfer based on her age. The decision protects federal workers from harassment should they complain that they've been the victim of discriminatory practices. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.
The second case was brought by Hedrick G. Humphries, a black manager of a Cracker Barrel restaurant who lost his job after complaining that a black employee had been dismissed based on race. The Court's ruling in Humphries favor in CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries helps ensure that employees cannot be punished for speaking up in defense of one another in the face of racial discrimination. Justices Thomas and Scalia again joined in a dissenting opinion.
So, very good news out of the Supreme Court this week, indicating a return to logic and a commitment to protecting workers' rights after the Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire debacle.
Now for your homework - if you have not already done so, go fill out the Ask a Working Woman Survey sponsored by the AFL-CIO and Working America. We need to make it clear that women are paying attention, and will vote only for those politicians fighting to ensure that the pay gap is closed, that affordable childcare is offered, that maternity leave is paid, and that women are truly protected against wage discrimination.