NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 20, 2009

The recently passed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act -- which makes it easier for workers to sue over pay discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age or disability by extending the legal deadline to file suit -- has given workers new ammunition to file job-discrimination cases in federal court; yet, they still face long odds against emerging victorious, says the Wall Street Journal.

Just because more workers now have standing to sue doesn't mean that they will receive a better reception in court.  From 1979 through 2006, federal plaintiffs won 15 percent of job-discrimination cases, compared to 51 percent in all other civil cases. 

What contributes to this bad track record, asks the Journal:

  • Reasons range from everything from a dearth of minorities on the bench to inherent difficulties in proving job discrimination, which is rarely overt.
  • A main reason is that companies can be quick to settle suits that appear credible; cases that aren't settled often are frivolous and should be dismissed.
  • Even the federal courts have detected the pattern of more dismissals in discrimination cases; a 2008 Federal Judicial Center report found that judges nationwide terminated 12.5 percent of employment-discrimination cases through summary judgments, before the suits reached trial.

In 90 percent of those cases, it was the employers who requested the summary judgment.   In contrast, 3 percent of contract cases and 1.7 percent of personal-injury and property-damage suits were dismissed via summary judgments.  Equally troubling to critics is that federal judges also now routinely terminate employment-discrimination cases through motions to dismiss, meaning that the plaintiffs aren't allowed to conduct fact finding to support their claims, says the Journal.

Source: Nathan Koppel, "Job-Discrimination Cases Tend to Far Poorly in Federal Court," Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2009.

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