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A minority-run company has the same right to sue for race discrimination as a person, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday. “When a corporation has acquired a racial identity, either as a matter of law or by imputation, then it can be the direct target of discrimination and has standing to pursue a claim under � 1981,” Judge Sidney Thomas wrote. Thomas was joined by Judges A. Wallace Tashima and Barry Silverman. The ruling arose out of litigation between Thinket Ink Information Resources Inc., and Santa Clara-based Sun Microsystems Inc. Thinket, which used to provide technology services to Sun, accused the networking giant of discrimination after the two companies had a falling out. In reaching its decision, the panel began by examining a 1977 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, which held that a corporation “has no racial identity.” But courts have found exceptions since 1977, and Thinket’s case is one of those, the panel ruled. The decision expands court interpretation of standing when it comes to corporate discrimination. Thinket is a federally certified minority-owned contractor “operated by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals,” Thomas wrote. Each of the company’s shareholders is African-American. The attorney who argued the case for Thinket, Raymond Bola, could not be reached for comment. Nor could representatives of the company. Although Monday’s ruling is a victory, Thinket’s case against Sun is by no means a slam dunk. The company has already lost in arbitration, and Northern District Judge Susan Illston has ruled that Thinket’s subsequent suit was not filed on time. But the panel sent the matter back to Illston to reconsider timeliness in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 04 C.D.O.S. 3774, which allows four years to file some federal claims instead of California’s one-year statute of limitations. Alfred Pfeiffer Jr., a Bingham McCutchen partner who worked on the case for Sun, said he doesn’t believe Thinket’s suit will survive. “I believe the correct legal result would be to continue to hold that these claims are time-barred,” Pfeiffer said. He also said Thinket’s standing as a corporation also could become an issue back in district court. Thinket began doing business with Sun in 1992 when it provided support in Sun’s Fremont office. Thinket then tried to get a “Master Service Agreement” to increase its business with Sun but was denied three times. In 1994, the companies signed an MSA agreement, but “the relationship soured,” according to Thomas’ opinion, and Thinket sued, alleging discrimination. The businesses went through arbitration and submitted their stipulated judgment to district court.

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