Corporations, which have the same legal status as persons, can now sue for racial discrimination, a federal court recently found.

The case involves Thinket Ink Information Resources, a Silicon Valley company that is certified as African American-owned as part of the federal 8(a) minority business program. Thinket alleges that tech giant Sun Microsystems rejected it as a preferred vendor because of its minority status. (Sun flatly denied the charge.)

But in a departure from earlier rulings, the Ninth Circuit allowed Thinket to proceed with its lawsuit. Since the 8(a) program identifies businesses by race, among other characteristics, Judge Sidney Thomas wrote in the opinion, a corporation may have "acquired a racial identity, either as a matter of law or by imputation." Among the outcomes of the ruling, experts say, could be a reverse discrimination suit filed by a white-owned firm against a company that has a supplier diversity program.