McDonald v. Santa Fe Trail Transportation
427 U.S. 273; 96 S. Ct. 2574; 49 L. Ed. 2d 493 (1976)

  • McDonald, Laird and Jackson worked for Santa Fe. They were suspected of stealing some items Santa Fe was transporting. Santa Fe fired McDonald and Laird (both white), but did not fire Jackson (who was black).
  • McDonald sued under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. 1981) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000) claiming that there was discrimination on Santa Fe's practices.
    • McDonald argued that 1981, which provides that "all persons shall have the same right to make and enforce contracts as is enjoyed by white citizens," affords protection from racial discrimination in private employment to white persons as well as nonwhites.
  • The Trial Court granted the motion to dismiss. McDonald appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that 1981 was not applicable to charges of racial discrimination against 'white persons'.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. McDonald appealed.
    • Santa Fe that by operation of the phrase "as is enjoyed by white citizens," 1981 unambiguously limits itself to the protection of nonwhite persons against racial discrimination.
    • Santa Fe argued that the legislative history of the 1981 was primarily concerned with assuring the civil rights of freed slaves, and there was no mention of reverse discrimination.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found for McDonald.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that if the situation were reversed, and McDonald had been black, then he would certainly have a strong case.
    • The Court found that 1981 explicitly applies to "all persons" and that should include white persons.
    • In addition, the Court found that while a mechanical reading of the phrase "as is enjoyed by white citizens" would seem to lend support to Santa Fe's reading of the statute, the Court had previously described this phrase simply as emphasizing "the racial character of the rights being protected."
    • The Court looked to the legislative history and found that the bill was initially introduced to "protect all persons in the US...of every race and color." That would seem to include whites.
      • The Court also looked at some transcripts of the floor debate and found that it was generally agreed at the time that the bill protected whites as well as blacks.