On November 5th, the Southern District of Florida refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against JP Morgan Chase Bank by one of its former bank tellers. The plaintiff, a Brazilian citizen, alleged the Bank violated anti-discrimination and retaliation laws under 42 U.S.C. § 1981. He complained the Bank treated him differently than U.S. citizens and non-Brazilian employees and then fired him after he reported alleged discrimination against both him and the Bank’s non-U.S. citizen clients.

The Bank sought dismissal of five of the plaintiff’s claims, including retaliation and discrimination. The Bank argued that § 1981 does not address discrimination on the basis of national origin. In denying the motion to dismiss, the court held that the plaintiff adequately pleaded a claim for alienage discrimination, which § 1981 protects against.

As to the retaliation claims, the Bank argued that the plaintiff had not engaged in a “protected activity”—an element of the retaliation cause of action—and that he could not sue for retaliation based on alleged discrimination against Bank clients.

The court held that the plaintiff sufficiently pleaded that he engaged in a “protected activity” by complaining of discrimination to a supervisor and human resources. The court found that even informal complaints of discrimination to supervisors may constitute “protected activity.”

The court also held that the plaintiff sufficiently pleaded a second § 1981 retaliation claim, premised on the Bank allegedly firing him for opposing discrimination against non-U.S. citizen Bank clients. The court stated that a § 1981 retaliation claim is viable “if the plaintiff took a position opposing discrimination,” even if the discrimination was not against the plaintiff personally.

Costa v. JP Morgan Chase Bank N.A. et al., case number 1:14-cv-23821, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.