Labor & Employment

Most Job Discrimination Suits Win, at Best, Small Settlements, Study Says

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When people think of employment discrimination suits, big-name class action cases like the recent record-breaking filing against Wal-Mart tend to come to mind.

But individual suits that rarely make it to trial and are likely to win a modest settlement, if any, accounted for the vast majority of employment discrimination cases in the federal courts between 1987 and 2003, explains a press release (PDF) about an American Bar Foundation study, Individual Justice or Collective Legal Mobilization? Employment Discrimination in the Post Civil Rights United States.

Published in the June issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, the study finds that only 6 percent of the plaintiffs in these cases make it to trial. At that point, they have a one-in-three chance of winning.

It’s not unusual for a defendant employer to offer an early “token” settlement, says Laura Beth Nielsen, a research professor at the American Bar Foundation and one of the authors of the article, in the press release. But “most cases don’t get anywhere near trial.

“Many plaintiffs, especially those without legal representation, are dismissed or lose on summary judgment,” she says. And, among the “very few” cases that are tried, “the plaintiffs mostly lose.”

Updated on June 10 to link to American Bar Foundation website.

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