Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Deb Widiss (Indiana) has two recent articles that will be of interest to our blog readers. The first is Griggs at Midlife, 113 Mich. L. Rev. 992 (2005), reviewing Bob Belton's recent book, The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace. From the abstract:
Griggs v. Duke Power, the Supreme Court case that held that policies that disproportionately harm minority employees can violate federal employment discrimination law even without evidence of “intentional” discrimination, recently turned forty. Griggs is generally celebrated as a landmark decision, but disparate impact’s current relevance (and its constitutionality) is hotly debated. Robert Belton’s The Crusade for Equality in the Workplace offers a rich and detailed history of the strategic choices that led to the plaintiffs’ victory in Griggs. This Review uses Belton’s history as a jumping off point to consider the contemporary importance of disparate impact in efforts to challenge employers’ use of criminal background screens. The Review also suggests that the failure to develop intersectional analysis — that is, an analysis of how sex and race may interact — in disparate impact doctrine risks obscuring key vectors of exclusion.
Belton’s book gives modern readers an inside look at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s litigation campaign in Griggs, and it does an excellent job showing how lawyers used disparate impact doctrine to dismantle test and educational requirements that could have excluded many black employees. The book, however, focuses almost exclusively on race discrimination cases. This Review explores the contemporaneous — and less successful — development of the doctrine in early sex discrimination cases. Generally, courts have not required employers to modify workplace structures that fail to accommodate caregiving responsibilities or pregnancy, despite their disparate impact on the basis of sex. Moreover, such policies often disproportionately harm women of color. By filling in this history, the Review offers a more nuanced assessment of disparate impact’s early years.
The Review then considers contemporary efforts to challenge employers’ use of criminal background screens, policies that likewise cause a disparate impact on the basis of both race and sex. It suggests that current litigation might be more successful if the intersectional approach were better developed, but it also highlights the importance of compliance work in achieving equal employment opportunity in the modern world. Although the EEOC has lost some high profile cases in this area, its guidance indicating that criminal background screens may cause an unlawful disparate impact has pushed employers to reconsider and refine their use of such screens.
The second expanded on Deb's other work on "shadow precedents," precedents that still seem to guide the courts even after Congress amends statutes to reverse the effects of those precedents: Still Kickin after All these Years: Sutton and Toyota as Shadow Precedents, 63 Drake L. Rev. 919 (2015). From that abstract:
Congress’s ability to override judicial opinions that interpret statutes is generally understood as an important aspect of maintaining legislative supremacy. In a series of articles, I have challenged the validity of this assumption by showing that courts often continue to rely on overridden precedents — what I have called shadow precedents. My earlier work explores instances in which it was unclear or debatable whether the override or the prior precedent should control. This article further documents such ambiguities, but its primary objective is to highlight examples of ongoing reliance on shadow precedents where it is unquestionably improper. It suggests, however, that citation of shadow precedents may often stem from information failure, including poor briefing by counsel, rather than courts’ willful disregard of legislative mandates.
The article, written for a symposium on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), examines implementation of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The ADAAA, a broadly bipartisan bill, was intended to supersede Supreme Court decisions that had set a very stringent standard for what impairments qualified as a disability. The ADAAA explicitly “rejected” the reasoning in these decisions; amended the ADA’s substantive provisions; and instructed courts to interpret the standard “in favor of broad coverage.” Many lower courts are properly implementing the revised standard, and the overall number of citations to the superseded decisions has dropped sharply. But this article identifies numerous post-ADAAA cases in which courts follow the old precedents for propositions that were undeniably superseded. Mistakes are particularly prevalent in cases alleging discrimination because one is “regarded as” having a disability. Even though the ADAAA was an unusually strong and clear override, it has failed to change fully the law on the ground.
The symposium mentioned in the abstract was published in the Drake Law Review and was an outgrowth of the AALS Employment Discrimination section panel at last year's annual meeting. It's a great symposium with pieces by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Steven Befort (Minnesota), Ruth Colker (Ohio State), Arlene Kanter (Syracuse), and Nicole Porter (Toledo).