According to the National Law Review, both Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C. 1981 provide protection to employees from racial discrimination. While the two statutes are very similar in nature—so much so, in fact, that courts often analyze the statutes in an identical fashion—the Colorado, Congress and Supreme Courts have made it clear that the two statutes remain distinct and separate from one another. For this reason, it is important that you understand the differences between Title VII and Section 1981.
Both Title VII and Section 1981 outlaw intentional discrimination. However, Title VII is subject to the disparate impact theory, which bans practices that may have the effect of rejecting numerous and otherwise qualified candidates, even if the outcome was unintentional. Section 1981 has no such protection.
Per Title VII, you must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before filing a lawsuit in court. Depending on Colorado’s laws, you have between 180 and 300 days to file a charge, though the statute of limitations and procedures vary for state, federal and local government workers. Under Section 1981, however, you have no such obligation. This distinction may prove useful if you miss the time period to file.
As touched on above, Section 1981 has a longer statute of limitations. Once you file a complaint with the EEOC and receive a Right to Sue Notice, you have an additional 90 days to file a lawsuit. When you file a cause of action under Section 1981, however, you have four years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit.
Section 1981 also does not have a cap on damages. Under Title VII, you can receive up to $300,000 in both compensatory and punitive damages. The law does not put a cap on the amount of back pay or front pay you may recover. Section 1981 does not cap the amount of damages a jury may award you.
The biggest difference between Section 1981 and Title VII, however, is the class of people each law covers. Section 1981 covers discrimination based solely on ethnicity or race, while Title VII covers discriminatory actions based on other identifying factors, such as age, gender, religion, etc.
This article should not be construed as legal advice. It is for educational purposes only.