Workplace Sex Discrimination Claims are Common – But They’re Not Making It into Court

Joseph A. Seiner

Several cases addressing whether it’s legal to fire a worker because of their sexual orientation and gender identity were taken up by the Supreme Court this week.

While these legal questions deserve significant attention, those concerned about equality on the job should not lose sight of the broader, yet equally important issue – the continued prevalence of sex discrimination in the workplace as a whole.

And while workplace sexual harassment has taken center stage in the past couple of years, women are still facing these other longstanding problems of discrimination.

Even if workers successfully convince the Supreme Court that sexual orientation should be protected by federal law, my work shows that their fellow employees will still be faced with the daunting task of trying to litigate such claims.

In the vast majority of cases, these claims of discrimination don’t even make it to a court.

Voices Not Heard

Only about 6% of civil rights lawsuits in the U.S. find their way to trial, according to a recent study that examined about 1,800 lawsuits filed in federal courts between 1988 and 2003.

The study, discussed in a 2017 article published in the American Bar Journal, included not just cases of sex discrimination, but also those filed alleging discrimination based on race, age and disability.

Of those that actually did go to trial, only about a third of the plaintiffs won their cases, the researchers found.

That’s at least in part because rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past decade have made it harder to file complaints, and have restricted the ability of multiple plaintiffs to bring claims and share costs through a class action lawsuit.

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