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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Mclean Credit Union
(argued the cause for the petitioner)
(argued the cause for the respondent)
(reargued the cause for the petitioner)
(reargued the cause for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

Brenda Patterson, a black woman, worked as a teller for McLean Credit Union for 10 years until she was laid off. She then alleged that McLean had harassed her, failed to promote her, and ultimately fired her because of her race. She claimed in federal district court that this violated 42 U.S.C. 1981, which the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Runyon v. McCrary interpreted to prohibit racial discrimination in the "making and enforcing of contracts." The court declared that Section 1981 did not cover racial harassment suits, and instructed the jury to only consider her lack of promotions and firing. Patterson lost. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Section 1981 only applied to matters relating to contracts and therefore did not include harassment suits. The United States Supreme Court held arguments and surmised that its decision would depend on whether it maintained the interpretation of Section 1981 it reached in Runyon v. McCrary. The Court scheduled reargument to focus on whether it should offer a broader interpretation of Section 1981 than that reached in Runyon.


Can a victim of work-place racial harassment file suit under 42 U.S.C. 1981? In order for an employee bypassed for promotion to charge racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981, must the bypassed employee show that the employees promoted instead had lesser qualifications?

Decision: 5 votes for Mclean Credit Union, 4 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts (42 USC 1981)

No and No. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy delivered the opinion for a 5-4 court. The Court affirmed its interpretation of Runyon v. McCrary allowing only contract-related suits under Section 1981. The Runyon interpretation of Section 1981 neither conflicts with other laws against racial harassment nor has proved unworkable as precedent. Regarding the racial harassment suit, the Court deemed that "the conduct alleged is postformation conduct by the employer relating to the terms and conditions of continuing employment, which is actionable only under the more expansive reach of Title VII." Since work- place harassment does not affect contracts, Section 1981 does not apply to it. Regarding promotions, the Court rejected the trial court's demand for proof that less qualified employees were promoted. Instead, Patterson only needed to prove that "she applied for and was qualified for an available position, that she was rejected, and that the employer then either continued to seek applicants for the position...or filled the position with a white employee." When following this procedure, Section 1981 did apply to discriminatory promotion suits.

Cite this Page
PATTERSON v. MCLEAN CREDIT UNION. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
PATTERSON v. MCLEAN CREDIT UNION, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"PATTERSON v. MCLEAN CREDIT UNION," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,