United States v. Burke, 504 U.S. 229, 24 (1992)

Page:   Index   Previous  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  Next

252

UNITED STATES v. BURKE

O'Connor, J., dissenting

contractual rights than to claims based on personal injury. The Court noted that while 1981 deals partially with contracts, it is "part of a federal law barring racial discrimination, which . . . is a fundamental injury to the individual rights of a person." Ibid. Moreover, the economic consequences of 1981 "flo[w] from guaranteeing the personal right to engage in economically significant activity free from racially discriminatory interference." Id., at 661-662. The most analogous state statute of limitations in a 1981 action is, therefore, the one governing personal injury suits. Id., at 662.

Wilson and Goodman held federal civil rights suits analogous to personal injury tort actions not at all because of the damages available to civil rights plaintiffs, but because federal law protected individuals against tort-like personal injuries. Discrimination in the workplace being no less injurious than discrimination elsewhere, the rights asserted by persons who sue under Title VII are just as tort-like as the rights asserted by plaintiffs in actions brought under 1981 and 1983.

II

The Court offers three additional reasons why respondents' recoveries should be taxed. First, it notes that amounts awarded under Title VII would have been received as taxable wages if there had been no discrimination, leaving the impression that failing to tax these recoveries would give victims of employment discrimination a windfall. See ante, at 241, and n. 13. Affording victims of employment discrimination this benefit, however, simply puts them on an equal footing with others who suffer personal injury. For example, "[i]f a taxpayer receives a damage award for a physical injury, which almost by definition is personal, the entire award is excluded from income even if all or a part of the recovery is determined with reference to the income lost because of the injury." Threlkeld v. Commissioner, 87 T. C. 1294, 1300 (1986), aff'd, 848 F. 2d 81 (CA6 1988). I see no

Page:   Index   Previous  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007