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Part I: Do lawsuits improve workplace gender and race equality?

We know from personal experience that employment law litigation has forced Milwaukee employers to recognize employee rights and compensate workers who were discriminated against on the basis of gender or race. But do lawsuits have an impact that extends beyond the plaintiff? Does employment litigation compel businesses to make long-term improvements to female and minority representation in the workplace?

Research recently published in the American Journal of Sociology takes a good look at an important question: whether "lawsuits bring about gender and racial equity, especially when accompanied by market pressures, press coverage, and mandated policy changes."

Researchers analyzed "171 high-profile lawsuits filed against private companies from 1997 to 2008" and how the verdicts and settlements affected subsequent management diversity. They compared the numbers of white women, black women and black men in management a year before the lawsuit to the numbers in the three years after the suit.

Why focus on those three groups of people? Researcher Elizabeth Hirsch explains that they did so "because, unfortunately but perhaps not surprisingly, the numbers for Hispanic and Asian American women and men in management were too small to get accurate results."

The good news is that employment law litigation does enhance workplace equity. "Regardless of whether it involved sex, race, color, or national origin, a discrimination lawsuit produced measurable gains in managerial representation for all three of the groups we studied."

The gains in the three years after a lawsuit was resolved in court or a settlement were measurable:

  • The percentage of white women in management rose from 18.7 percent (before the lawsuit) to 21.8 percent (after the suit)
  • The percentage of black women in management rose from 2.1 percent (before the lawsuit) to 2.3 percent (after the suit)
  • The percentage of black men in management rose from 3.0 percent (before the lawsuit) to 3.4 percent (after the suit)

While there is no doubt that many readers will be disappointed by what appears to be modest gains, the researchers had analyses and data to share that should encourage those who are pondering whether to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit of their own.

The bottom line is that gender and race discrimination lawsuits not only improve the plaintiff's life and career, but also help to bring about lasting workplace equity.

We'll have more on this research in an upcoming blog post.

If you're considering legal action against a Milwaukee employer, contact the employment law firm of Alan C. Olson and Associates to discuss your options.

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