Section 1981 bias law doesn’t cover national-origin claims

Shortly after the Civil War, Congress passed the first anti-discrimination law. That law, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, has now become an increasingly common route for African-Americans to bring to federal court a variety of discrimination claims not covered by Title VII.

The main reason: Damages aren’t capped under Section 1981 as they are under Title VII, so lawsuits have the potential for a bigger windfall. Section 1981 prohibits discrimination in the enforcement of contracts. The good news: As this case shows, claims of national-origin discrimination aren’t allowed under Section 1981.

Recent case: Chenet Joseph worked for Florida Quality Truss Industries and often complained that the company discriminated against him because he was born in Haiti.

When the company fired him, Joseph sued under Section 1981, alleging national-origin discrimination. (He filed under that law because he’d missed the filing deadlines under Title VII.)

The court dismissed his complaint because he didn’t allege discrimination based on race. Instead, he alleged discrimination because he was Haitian. The court reasoned the law applied only to discrimination lawsuits based on race, not national origin. Since a Haitian can be of any ethnicity or race, claiming national-origin bias isn’t enough. (Joseph v. Florida Quality Truss Industries, No. 05:61405, SD FL, 2006)