Study Few Discrimination Suits Filed as Class Actions

By Staff Report

Jun. 14, 2010

Most plaintiffs in employment discrimination lawsuits are solo plaintiffs and are likely to receive modest settlements if they receive anything at all, says a study by the Chicago-based American Bar Foundation, a research institute.

Class-action lawsuits, such as the sex discrimination lawsuit filed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employees, although widely reported, are extremely rare, according to the study, which is discussed in the June issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies in an article titled “Individual Justice or Collective Legal Mobilization? Employment Discrimination Litigation in the Post Civil Rights United States.”

Laura Beth Nielsen, a co-author of the article, said in a statement: “There is a lot of speculation about what kinds of claims make up the bulk of employment discrimination litigation, but these debates are rarely informed by the numbers.

“For example, many commentators claim that class-action lawsuits are quite common. In reality, they make up less than 1 percent of the federal caseload.”

The study, which covers employment discrimination cases filed in federal courts from 1987 to 2003, found that about 19 percent of cases are dismissed, and 50 percent of closed filings involve an early settlement.

Of the cases that do not settle early, plaintiffs lose the motion for summary judgment in 57 percent of the remaining cases, or 18 percent of filings overall, the study said. In the 14 percent of cases that remain active after the disposition of the motion for summary judgment, 57 percent, or 8 percent of filings overall, settle before a trial outcome. In the 6 percent of filings that result in trial outcomes, plaintiffs win 33 percent of the time, or in 2 percent of filings overall.  

Filed by Judy Greenwald of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail


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