Are hostile judges and institutional barriers that limit access to justice for the poor and middle class suppressing the number of employment discrimination lawsuits filed in our nation’s courts?
According to the 2014 issue of the Annual Workplace Class Action Litigation Report, class action employment discrimination filings declined by about 14 percent in 2013. There were a total of 12,311 lawsuits in 2013, compared to 14,260 in 2012.
A survey by the American Bar Foundation in 2012 found that 75 percent of complainants feel the federal court’s handling of their discrimination lawsuit is profoundly unfair. Complainants said that either the whole legal system or specific aspects of it are biased against victims. They complained about institutional barriers, such as the difficulty in securing a competent attorney. See Berrey, Ellen C., et al., Situated Justice: A Contextual Analysis of Fairness and Inequality in Employment Discrimination Litigation,” 46 Law & Society Review 1, pp. 1-36)(2012).
The class action litigation report, produced by the corporate law firm, Seyfarth Shaw, states the ten largest employment discrimination class action cases in 2013 resulted in a total of $234.1 million in damages. If one particularly large settlement of $160 million was factored out, the 2013 total would be the second lowest since 2006. The $160 million settlement came in the case of McReynolds, et al. v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Case No. 05-CV-6583 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 6, 2013), a class action lawsuit brought by African American employees alleging unfair pay and promotions.
The biggest settlements in 2013 involved nationwide classes and included six gender, two race, and one disability related discrimination class action.
The total amount of damages in employment discrimination cases for each year are as follows:
- 2012 – $48.6 million;
- 2011 – $123.2 million;
- 2010 – $346.4 million;
- 2009 – $86.2 million;
- 2008 – $118.36 million;
- 2007 – $282.1 million; and
- 2006 – $91 million.
The report states there may be a significant jump in employment discrimination cases in 2014 because the number of complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011 and 2012 were the highest in the 48-year history of the Commission. These complaints are now ripe for litigation.