42 U.S.C. § 1981 is a federal statute that broadly prohibits discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on race. It protects persons of any race. The statute also bars retaliation against employees for asserting their rights under the statute.
Section 1981 applies to employers throughout the country, of any size, including state and local governments, but not the federal government.
Section 1981 provides: “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). The statute defines “make and enforce contracts” to include “the making, performance, modification, and termination of contracts, and the enjoyment of all benefits, privileges, terms, and conditions of the contractual relationship.” 42 U.S.C. § 1981(b).
If an employee proves discrimination in violation of Section 1981, the remedies available under the statute include hiring, reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and costs. Unlike under Title VII, compensatory damages and punitive damages are not “capped” under Section 1981.
An individual alleging a violation of Section 1981 may go directly to court and is not required to file an administrative complaint with either the EEOC or the U.S. Department of Labor beforehand. Section 1981 has a four-year statute of limitations.
Because the rules and procedures under Section 1981 are complicated, an employee should discuss his or her complaints of race discrimination promptly with a qualified employment lawyer.