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At-Will Employment Is a Contract for Purposes of § 1981 Civil Rights
Description Appeals court held that an at-will employment relationship is a contract for purposes of a claim by an employee that she was subject to racial discrimination. § 1981 prohibits racial discrimination in contracts; there is an employment contract for purposes of applying that statute.
Topic Employment Discrimination
Key Words At-Will Employment; Contract; § 1981 Claim
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Skinner was an at-will employee of Maritz for 19 years when she was fired for unsatisfactory performance. She filed a § 1981 claim based on discrimination for race and sex. The district court dismissed the suit, holding that at-will employees do not have contractual rights in the event of termination. § 1981 requires a contract to exist, and since one did not, her cause of action must fail. Skinner appealed.
Decision Reversed. Under Missouri law, employers may discharge at-will employees without cause and without liability unless the employee falls within a statutory provision that provides to the contrary. An at-will employee, employed without a written contract in an at-will relationship, has a "contract" within the meaning of civil rights statutes guaranteeing equal rights to make and enforce contracts. Such contracts may not be affected by racially discriminatory conduct. Her claim of racial discrimination in the employment relationship may proceed.
Citation Skinner v. Maritz, Inc., C F.3d C (2001 WL 641556, 8th Cir., 2001)

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