HR Rep Personally Liable for Retaliation

Using a post-Civil War statute, a federal appeals court held a human resources representative and a mid-level manager could be personally liable for race-based retaliation against a former employee.

The case involved an employee at a chemical plant who complained of racial harassment over the course of several years. His supervisor and the plant’s HR representative did nothing to stop the harassment, and disciplined him several times instead. He was eventually fired. After suing under Title VII, the company he worked for filed for bankruptcy; he had to dismiss the suit against it. But he then sued his manager and the plant’s HR representative personally. He settled with the manager, and the HR representative prevailed at the trial court.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that 42 U.S.C. 1981, a Civil War era statute that prohibits racial discrimination in making and enforcing contracts, allows a claim directly against the HR representative because she persuaded the company’s corporate office to fire the complaining employee.

Section 1981 is an important provision to keep in mind because, while its substantive provisions track Title VII, it has a four-year statute of limitations and is not enforced by the EEOC.

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