By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - Minorities are far more likely than whites to
file an employment discrimination claim without being
represented by an attorney, greatly diminishing their chances
for a successful outcome, according to a study by the American Bar Foundation.
The study of 2,100 U.S. district court cases between 1988
and 2003 found African Americans were 2.5 times more likely than
whites to file an employment civil rights case without a lawyer.
Among other racial minorities, such as Hispanics and Asians,
that figure dropped to 1.9, according to the study.
The disparities remained after researchers took into account
factors such as the gender and occupation of plaintiffs, and
case characteristics such as the basis of the alleged
The paper, "Race and Representation: Racial Disparities in
Legal Representation for Employment Civil Rights Plaintiffs,"
was published in the New York University Journal of Legislation
and Public Policy.
Plaintiffs without attorneys were 14 times more likely to
have their case dismissed and eight times more likely to have
their case entirely dismissed on motion for summary judgment
than those with an attorney, according to earlier research
co-authored by Laura Beth Nielsen, who co-authored the American
Bar Foundation study.
"You have people that have lost faith in the state, broadly
speaking. That's a big problem ... with the legitimacy of the
entire system," said Nielsen, the director of legal studies at
The study pointed to a lack of information, lack of trust in
lawyers and a lack of time and resources to find a legal
representation as "bottom-up" factors that had led to the
disparity in representation.
The research suggested "top-down" factors were also at play
in terms of how plaintiffs' lawyers selected clients. Interviews
with plaintiffs' lawyers showed a highly subjective screening
process that may alienate minority clients who lack social and
economic resources, the researchers said.
"Minority plaintiffs cannot obtain lawyers as easily as
whites, which ends up replicating other inequalities that civil
rights law is designed to mitigate," said co-author Amy Myrick,
a sociology scholar at Northwestern.
The authors called for increased assistance on the part of
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for claimants who
were without lawyers, more education on how the legal system
worked and more court appointments for those who could not
afford legal representation.
The authors also suggested employment attorneys analyze
their initial client-screening process. They said more pro bono
legal services may ease the racial disparity they found in their
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