New Study: What Really Happens to Employment Suits

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 11, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Despite the glaring headlines over massive discrimination suits like the recent sex discrimination suit against retail giant Walmart, a new study finds most of these suits are brought by individuals, not classes, and do not always fare well in the justice system.

According to the ABA Law Journal, a new study from the American Bar Foundation announced June 9, found that most employment discrimination cases are filed by individuals who receive only modest settlements, if anything at all. According to one of the study's authors, "commentators claim that class action lawsuits are quite common. In reality, they make up less than 1 percent of the federal caseload."

The study, Individual Justice or Collective Legal Mobilization? Employment Discrimination Litigation in the Post Civil Rights United States, was published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. It examines the outcome of discrimination suits in the federal courts between 1987 and 2003. Among the surprising results of the report, is the fact that not only are the overwhelming majority of suits not class actions, but even those suits represented by the EEOC or a public interest law firm are very, very rare.

Also according to the study, legal representation is crucial to the outcome of a plaintiff's case. Without an attorney, the chance of even getting to trial becomes slim. Of the 20 percent of cases where the plaintiff is not represented by a lawyer, over one half of them are dismissed or lose on summary judgment before trial. Others can fall prey to a token settlement offer often given by companies early on in the process.

Research like this is important because understanding the actual statistics of case outcomes may change the public's perception about what really happens in a discrimination case. This in turn can affect policy and law when legislators consider new discrimination laws, or even whether the current ones work the way we think they should. 

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