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.
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
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.