Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

From the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to the Courthouse, Does Civil Rights Litigation Remediate Racial Inequality in the Workplace?
by Berney, David J., Ph.D., New School University, 2012, 363; 3517973
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines the ability of civil rights litigation to redress racial inequality in the workplace. It enters the larger historical debate regarding the effectiveness of civil rights litigation to serve as a force for progressive, socio-political change. To focus my inquiry, I studied the operations of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, an administrative agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws. I also interviewed major participants in the civil rights litigation system, including complainants, attorneys, and judges. I drew upon my own experiences as a practicing civil rights attorney. My investigation employed a range of different methods, including interviews, ethnographic observation, and archival research. This is, to my knowledge, the first full study of the actual operations of an important state civil rights agency in close to fifty years.

My dissertation finds that litigation has historically promoted racial equality in employment. But two factors have contributed to limit what lawsuits can realistically accomplish today. First, starting in the 1970s, Republican presidential administrations appointed judges who proved less sympathetic to civil rights claims. The resulting case law made it much harder to bring successful lawsuits. Second, expressions of workplace bias became much more covert over time partly as a consequence of the successes that civil rights litigators achieved. The litigation paradigm is not well designed to tackle such subtleties.

Beyond a lack of effectiveness, litigation can also have deleterious effects as it can cause employees to suffer psychic injury on top of whatever racial indignities they have endured. Nonetheless, civil rights litigation still serves important functions. Litigants report that it provides critical space to actualize their civic identities as political agents. It reaffirms their racial identities by connecting them to important social movements of the past. It also remains a deterrent against ongoing forms of blatant discrimination. But despite its continuing contributions, litigation is unlikely to achieve systematic racial reforms in the workplace beyond what has already been attained. As a result, it may be important for legal activists to rethink strategies for advancing the interests of minorities in the workplace.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Plotke, David
Commitee: Hattam, Victoria, Ott, Julia, Pachirat, Timothy
School: New School University
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 73/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Law, Management, Legal Studies, Political science
Keywords: Civil rights, Litigation, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Racial inequality, Workplace
Publication Number: 3517973
ISBN: 9781267487087