McDonald and a co-worker (plaintiffs), both white, and a fellow black employee, Charles Jackson, worked at Santa Fe Trail Transportation Co. (Santa Fe) (defendant). All three were charged with stealing goods from a large shipment carried by Santa Fe. A week later, the plaintiffs were fired, but Jackson was not. The plaintiffs sued Santa Fe under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 [a provision derived from the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that protects nonwhite individuals against racial discrimination], alleging unlawful discrimination on the basis of their race. The district court concluded that discharging white employees while retaining a similarly charged black employee did not violate Title VII or § 1981 and dismissed the lawsuit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs petitioned for review by the United States Supreme Court.