22 Cases and Articles to Help Bring Diversity Issues into Class Discussions

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  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

T he recent civic unrest in the United States following the death of George Floyd has elevated the urgency to recognize and study issues of diversity and the needs of underrepresented groups in all aspects of public life.

Business schools—and educational institutions across the spectrum—are no exception. It’s vital that educators facilitate safe and productive dialogue with students about issues of inclusion and diversity. To help, we’ve gathered a collection of case studies (all with teaching notes) and articles that can encourage and support these critical discussions.

These materials are listed across three broad topic areas: leadership and inclusion, cases featuring protagonists from historically underrepresented groups, and women and leadership around the world. This list is hardly exhaustive, but we hope it provides ways to think creatively and constructively about how educators can integrate these important topics in their classes. HBP will continue to curate and share content that addresses these equity issues and that features diverse protagonists.

Editors’ note: To access the full text of these articles, cases, and accompanying teaching notes, you must be registered with HBP Education. We invite you to sign up for a free educator account here . Verification may take a day; in the meantime, you can read all of our Inspiring Minds content .

Leadership and Inclusion

John Rogers, Jr.—Ariel Investments Co.

—by Steven S. Rogers and Greg White

Gender and Free Speech at Google (A)

—by Nien-hê Hsieh, Martha J. Crawford, and Sarah Mehta

The Massport Model: Integrating Diversity and Inclusion into Public-Private Partnerships

—by Laura Winig and Robert Livingston

“Numbers Take Us Only So Far”

—by Maxine Williams

For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly

—by Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup

How Organizations Are Failing Black Workers—and How to Do Better

—by Adia Harvey Wingfield

To Retain Employees, Focus on Inclusion—Not Just Diversity

—by Karen Brown

From HBR 's The Big Idea:

Toward a Racially Just Workplace: Diversity efforts are failing black employees. Here’s a better approach.

—by Laura Morgan Roberts and Anthony J. Mayo

Cases with Protagonists from Historically Underrepresented Groups

Arlan Hamilton and Backstage Capital

—by Laura Huang and Sarah Mehta

United Housing—Otis Gates

—by Steven Rogers and Mercer Cook

Eve Hall: The African American Investment Fund in Milwaukee

—by Steven Rogers and Alterrell Mills

Dylan Pierce at Peninsula Industries

—by Karthik Ramanna

Maggie Lena Walker and the Independent Order of St. Luke

—by Anthony J. Mayo and Shandi O. Smith

Multimedia Cases:

Enterprise Risk Management at Hydro One, Multimedia Case

—by Anette Mikes

Women and Leadership Around the World

Monique Leroux: Leading Change at Desjardins

—by Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Ai-Ling Jamila Malone

Kaweyan: Female Entrepreneurship and the Past and Future of Afghanistan

—by Geoffrey G. Jones and Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Womenomics in Japan

—by Boris Groysberg, Mayuka Yamazaki, Nobuo Sato, and David Lane

Women MBAs at Harvard Business School: 1962-2012

—by Boris Groysberg, Kerry Herman, and Annelena Lobb

Beating the Odds

—by Laura Morgan Roberts, Anthony J. Mayo, Robin J. Ely, and David A. Thomas

Rethink What You “Know” About High-Achieving Women

—by Robin J. Ely, Pamela Stone, and Colleen Ammerman

“I Try to Spark New Ideas”

—by Christine Lagarde and Adi Ignatius

How Women Manage the Gendered Norms of Leadership

—by Wei Zheng, Ronit Kark, and Alyson Meister

Is this list helpful to you? What other topics or materials would you like to see featured in our next curated list? Let us know .

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CASE TEACHING

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22 Jun EEOC Violations: Four Discrimination case Studies from which to learn

Introduction.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Oftentimes, the EEOC accomplishes this enforcement through lawsuits and other legal action. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered.

Applicable employers that do not comply with EEOC regulations can find themselves in messy legal situations or on the hook for significant monetary penalties. That’s why it’s critical for employers to understand how their workplace actions may apply to EEOC rules.

The case studies in this article provide real-world examples of employers found to be in violation of EEOC regulations. It includes snapshots of violations and guidance for how those employers could’ve prevented EEOC issues. By examining these case studies, employers can learn from the mistakes of others in similar industries and avoid EEOC violations.

Four Real-world Case Studies

1.  SAN DIEGO, CA —A company that runs a chain of resort-style athletic facilities and country clubs has agreed to pay $500,000 and provide additional relief to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit from the EEOC.

What went wrong:

  •  Some female employees were subjected to sexual harassment by management and customers.
  •  According to the lawsuit, employees who complained about the treatment were allegedly retaliated against by management.
  •  Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting such a claim.

2.  FRESNO, CA —An ice cream company will pay $200,000 and revamp its hiring practices to settle a race and national origin lawsuit filed by the EEOC.

  •  The company allegedly favored Hispanic job applicants over other nationalities for entry-level positions, even discouraging and deterring non-Hispanic applicants from applying, according to the lawsuit.
  •  The company’s sole non-Hispanic employee was allegedly fired after a week due to their national origin.
  •  Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects against discrimination due to an individual’s national origin.

3.   DETROIT, MI —A state government body will pay $115,000 and provide additional relief to settle an age discrimination lawsuit from the EEOC.

  •  A 56-year-old applicant was allegedly denied a position due to her age, according to the lawsuit.
  •  Another individual alleged that their work was subject to unwarranted scrutiny and they were the target of derogatory statements due to their age.
  •  Such alleged conduct violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discriminating against individuals because they are age 40 or older.

4.  DENVER, CO —A manufacturer will pay $100,00 and furnish additional relief to settle a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit from the EEOC.

  •  An applicant was allegedly denied a position because they were deaf, according to the lawsuit.
  •  The individual and their job placement advocate also alleged retaliation for complaining about discrimination and the need for disability accommodation.
  •  Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. The Act also requires employers to consider and provide reasonable accommodations that would allow workers and job applicants with disabilities to perform essential job functions.

Correcting the Problems

Avoiding EEOC violations isn’t always straightforward, as illustrated by the case studies on the previous page. However, with some guidance, an employer can keep their business compliant and their workers happy. Below is general guidance related to the issues discussed earlier, categorized by violation type.

Sexual Harassment:   Sexual harassment is not tolerated by the federal government, nor should it be tolerated by any business. An employee’s gender or sexuality should not factor into workplace decisions. Moreover, every employee should feel safe while at work and not fear harassment of any kind, least of all from their employer. To that end, it’s wise for employers to periodically revisit their sexual harassment policies and training to ensure all staff members are familiar with prohibitions on sex-based harassment.

Age Discrimination:   Employers cannot discriminate against an individual because they are age 40 or older, plain and simple. An organization cannot deny someone a position solely because it’s “seeking a younger fit.” Similarly, employers cannot single out older workers for performance issues while ignoring such issues among younger employees. Employers are encouraged to review their hiring and performance review criteria to ensure all employees are evaluated the same way.

Race and National Origin Discrimination:  It’s unlawful for employers to use race as a qualifying characteristic for employment. An individual’s race and national origin should never factor into a workplace decision. Employers must be careful to treat applicants and employees fairly. It’s a best practice to periodically review hiring practices to ensure consistent, nonpreferential standards.

Disability Discrimination:   Individuals with disabilities must be considered for a position just like any other applicant. If an applicant has a disability, employers are obligated to try and figure out a reasonable accommodation for the person so they can perform the role’s essential functions. Employers cannot deny a qualified applicant with a disability a position because they are disabled, or because a reasonable accommodation would be required to allow the applicant to perform essential job functions. As such, employers should be careful to ensure their hiring practices aren’t unintentionally discriminatory.

Retaliation:   Generally, most of the case studies from the previous page involved allegations of retaliation from employers. Retaliation is when an employer punishes a job applicant or employee for asserting their right to be free from employment discrimination. Retaliatory actions vary, but may include giving a low performance score, reassigning an employee, spreading rumors, engaging in verbal abuse or unduly scrutinizing work. In all cases, retaliation against employees or applicants is unlawful. Employers can find themselves in hot water if they are accused of retaliation, particularly in response to an employee filing a harassment or discrimination claim.

These case studies demonstrate how easy it can be for an employer to run afoul of EEOC regulations. That’s why it’s so important for employers to seek professional guidance before making potentially costly decisions. By learning from these employers’ mistakes, others in similar industries can avoid major violations and prevent EEOC lawsuits.

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Case Summaries

Beneath the title of each case summary below are links that connect to lists of similar cases sorted by topic areas relevant to each case by protected class . Links within each case summary connect to important case documents including complaints, briefs, settlement agreements, consent decrees, orders, and press releases.

On March 18, 2004, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Section moved to intervene in A.B. v. Rhinebeck Central School District and Thomas Mawhinney , a sexual harassment case brought against the Rhinebeck Central School District and the former high school principal Thomas Mawhinney. The case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 9, 2003, by four current and former high school students and a school employee. The plaintiffs alleged that the school district and Mawhinney violated state and federal laws, including Title IX. The United States filed an intervention brief and complaint-in-intervention alleging that Mawhinney sexually harassed the four plaintiff students as well as other female high school students during his ten-year tenure as principal and that the school district violated Title IX by acting with deliberate indifference to known sexual harassment of these students. The district opposed the United States' intervention, and the United States filed a reply . On August 25, 2004, the court granted the United States' intervention motion.

On March 22, 2006, the court approved a consent decree that requires the district to develop and implement a comprehensive plan that will ensure a discrimination-free educational environment for all students. The district must retain an expert regarding sexual harassment training and prevention to assist in developing the comprehensive plan, to evaluate the district's sexual harassment policies, to conduct a school climate assessment, and to develop a mandatory training program. The consent decree also requires the district to educate school board members and employees regarding how to respond to sexual harassment complaints. Lastly, the district must pay $152,500 to compensate the student victims and to pay their attorney's fees. On December 9, 2009, the parties informed the court that the case could be closed based on the district's implementation of the consent order.

On October 3, 2018, the Section and the District of Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office (collectively the “United States”) entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement with the Adams 12 Five Star Schools (“the District”) in Colorado to bring the District’s English Learner (EL) program into compliance with Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). This is the United States’ second settlement agreement with the District. The first settlement agreement was reached in 2010 and aimed to resolve numerous EEOA violations that the Section had identified during a compliance review of all the District’s English Learner (“EL”) programs and practices. This 2010 agreement addressed, among other things, the school district's obligations to: ensure timely, adequate and appropriate EL services; train EL teachers and administrators; recruit and hire qualified staff for EL students; provide translation services for parents and guardians; ensure EL students are appropriately evaluated for special education and receive dual services when eligible; provide adequate and appropriate materials for EL classes; monitor current and exited EL students; and evaluate its EL programs adequately. The Section ended its monitoring of the 2010 agreement in 2015.

In 2016, the United States began conducting a complaint investigation to determine whether the District was appropriately serving its approximately 5,600 EL students as required by Section 1703(f) of the EEOA. The second settlement agreement addresses the narrower set of conditions that the United States identified as noncompliant with the EEOA in 2018. The 2018 agreement requires the District to: provide adequate language services to all EL students; provide EL students with appropriate access to core content through sheltered instruction; adequately train the administrators and teachers who provide language services and implement the EL program, including on how to use its curricula for EL students; adequately monitor the academic performance of current and former EL students; and properly evaluate the effectiveness of the EL program over time.  The parties anticipate that the 2018 agreement will remain in place for three years.

This desegregation case involves the Longview Independent School District ("LISD") in Longview, Texas, which was ordered by the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas to desegregate on August 27, 1970. On January 24, 2011, as part of a district-wide consolidation plan, the court approved a consent order adopting LISD's revised attendance zones. On February 28, 2014, the court declared that LISD was partially unitary and had eliminated all vestiges of past de jure discrimination to the extent practicable in its facilities, transportation, extracurricular activities, and staff assignment. Following a comprehensive review of the school district's policies and practices, and subsequent negotiations, on December 22, 2014, the court approved the parties' proposed consent order. The Section is monitoring the district's compliance with this consent order, which requires LISD to publicize and broadly disseminate the application and assessment procedures it uses to admit students to the Hudson PEP Elementary School magnet program; permit and facilitate majority-to-minority transfers between certain schools; provide equal access to pre-advanced placement courses at its middle schools; and publicize and broadly disseminate its gifted-and-talented program admission procedures.

On October 12, 2022, the United States issued its Letter of Findings alleging the State of Alabama is violating Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Based on our investigation, we concluded the State of Alabama discriminates against students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in the foster care system who have been enrolled at on-site schools on the campuses of Alabama’s psychiatric residential treatment facilities.  By enrolling students at the on-site schools without regard to each student’s ability to perform in local public schools, the State’s practices relegate them to unnecessarily segregated classes and unequal educational opportunities.  During our investigation, we found these on-site schools differ in many and substantial ways from general education schools, including in their physical attributes, the multi-grade composition of the classes, their heavy reliance on online programs in classrooms without certified staff, and an overall and profound lack of resources.  The on-site schools also lack grade-appropriate curricula; provide insufficient instructional services and supports, including through the use of shortened school days; and are often unable to provide students with access to facilities that are common in general education settings, such as libraries, gyms, and science labs, or opportunities to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. For more information, please see the press release .    

In this matter involving the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) system of alternative education programs, known as Alternative Education for Disruptive Youth (AEDY), the Section conducted an investigation into complaints that Pennsylvania’s statewide system of alternative education discriminated against students with disabilities in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as English Language Learners (EL) students in violation of Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.  On March 25, 2019 , the Section along with the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Western, Middle, and Eastern Districts of Pennsylvania entered into a settlement agreement with PDE .  The settlement agreement requires that PDE monitor the AEDY system to ensure that students with disabilities are not placed in AEDY in a manner that discriminates based on disability; that they are not unnecessarily segregated within AEDY programs on the basis of disability; that they are not denied equal educational opportunities; and that students with disabilities are transferred back to their home schools in a timely manner.  In addition, the agreement will require all local educational agencies referring EL students to AEDY to establish an EL service plan to ensure EL students are provided appropriate services.  Further, PDE will ensure that AEDY programs provide EL services by utilizing teachers who hold ESL teaching credentials and by using appropriate materials. The United States will monitor compliance with the terms of the agreement.  For more information, please see this press release .

On February 16, 2023, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with the Anchorage School District in Anchorage, Alaska to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities. The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on allegations that the district engaged in improper restraint and seclusion practices in its specialized schools and programs for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Under the settlement agreement, the district will take proactive steps to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities. The district will, among other things: prohibit the use of seclusion; limit the use of restraint; document and review all instances of restraint and ensure they were justified; hire a district-level administrator to review incidents and ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA; create classroom-wide behavior management plans to discourage restraint and promote positive behaviors; revise its complaint form to ensure it can receive complaints related to restraint and seclusion; provide training and professional development for all teachers and instructional staff at its schools and programs for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities; notify parents and guardians of all instances of restraint and seclusion; and offer compensatory counseling or education services to students with disabilities who were subjected to the district’s discriminatory practices. For more information, please see this letter , press release , and summary of the agreement .

In this longstanding school desegregation case, the Section and a class of black plaintiffs opposed the school district's proposal, among other things, to build five new schools. The Section contended that the district's proposal would not further desegregation of the district's schools, would not afford black students equal educational opportunities, and would impose disproportionate transportation burdens on black students. The school district's transportation records showed, for example, that some black high-school students were required to ride a bus up to nearly two and one-half hours each way to and from school, while white students were bussed no longer than forty-five minutes to and from the same school; nonetheless, the school district proposed to build a new high school at a location that would reduce the transportation times of white students while maintaining the transportation times of black students. The Section also alleged that the school district had failed to comply with existing desegregation orders in the areas of faculty and staff hiring, assignment and compensation; transportation; facilities; and curriculum.

After a seven-day evidentiary trial in May 1999, the district court issued an order approving the school district's construction plan, but requiring the school district to address several of the matters about which we had complained. Among other things, the district court ordered the school district to take steps to reduce the transportation times to school for black students. The Section and the plaintiff class appealed from the district court's order relating to new construction. At the request of the Section and the plaintiff class, the district court entered an order "staying," or putting on hold, the school district's proposed new construction, pending a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

While the appeal was pending, the parties entered into settlement discussions. In April 2000 the parties signed and the district court approved a consent order that both required the school district to address areas of its alleged non-compliance with federal law and resolved all but one of the issues on appeal. The remaining issue on appeal was whether the school district's proposed site for a new high school was consistent with the district's affirmative desegregation obligations. On November 6, 2000, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's ruling that allowed construction of the new high school to proceed at the contested location. In December 2000, the district court entered an order establishing a bi-racial advisory committee.

On August 5, 1965, the private plaintiffs brought this school desegregation case to enjoin the Monroe City School District from continuing to operate racially segregated schools.  The United States joined the case as amicus curiae in 1970 and intervened in the lawsuit in 1978.  On July 6, 1992, the Court declared the District unitary with respect to facilities, extracurricular activities, and “the hiring and retention of black teachers and administrators.”  However, the Court declined to declare the District unitary with regard to “teacher and principal assignments, student assignments and transportation.”  On March 30, 2010, the Court ordered the District to “offer the same courses at every high school in the District;” fully implement a medical magnet program at Carroll High School by the fall of the 2011-12 school year (in an attempt to increase the diversity of the student population at Carroll High); encourage each high school student “to attempt to qualify for the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), which provides scholarships for qualified high school students who choose to attend a Louisiana state college or university;” “work with the Equity Assistance Center for the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) in order to ensure that all students have an equitable opportunity to participate in Gifted, Honors, pre-AP, and AP programming at all schools in the District;” and ensure that all principals, other administrators, faculty and certified staff are informed of the terms of the Court’s order.  On September 25, 2015, the Court declared the District unitary with respect to student assignment and transportation, but declined to pronounce the District unitary as to teacher and principal assignments.  In addition, the Court found that the District had not complied with the March 30, 2010 Consent Decree.  On December 11, 2015, the Court entered a Consent Decree designed to remedy teacher and principal assignment and course offerings.  Among other actions, the board must take steps to equalize course offerings and ensure that the racial makeup and credentials of the teachers and administrators at any given school does not indicate that a school is intended for black students or white students.  On March 23, 2016, in the interest of securing full compliance with the letter and spirit of the December 2015 Consent Decree, the United States and the District jointly filed a motion for the extension of certain deadlines therein.  The Court granted the motion and entered an Amended Consent Decree on March 24, 2016.  On April 14, 2016, the Court entered a Second Amended Consent Decree .

On July 24, 2013, the Section and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights entered into a resolution agreement with the Arcadia Unified School District in Arcadia, Calif., to resolve an investigation into allegations of discrimination against a transgender student based on the student's sex. Under the agreement, the school district will take a number of steps to ensure that the student, whose gender identity is male and who has consistently and uniformly presented as a boy at school and in all other aspects of his life for several years, will be treated like other male students while attending school in the district. The agreement resolves a complaint filed in October 2011. As detailed in the closure letter sent to the district, the complaint alleged that the district had prohibited the student from accessing facilities consistent with his male gender identity at school and on a school-sponsored overnight trip because he is transgender. The United States investigated this complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both Title IX and Title IV prohibit discrimination against students based on sex. Under the agreement, the district will work with a consultant to support and assist the district in creating a safe, nondiscriminatory learning environment for students who are transgender or do not conform to gender stereotypes; amend its policies and procedures to reflect that gender-based discrimination, including discrimination based on a student's gender identity, transgender status, and nonconformity with gender stereotypes, is a form of discrimination based on sex; and train administrators and faculty on preventing gender-based discrimination and creating a nondiscriminatory school environment for transgender students. Additionally, the district will take a number of steps to treat the student like all other male students in the education programs and activities offered by the district. The district-wide provisions of the agreement will be in place until the end of the 2015-2016 school year. The student-specific provisions of the agreement will be in place as long as the student is enrolled in the district. For more information, please see this press release .

On July 23, 2021, the Section and the U.S. Department of Education filed a statement of interest in the U.S. District Court for the South District of Texas in Arnold v. Barbers Hill Independent School District .  In this case, the District disciplined two black boys when they refused to cut their locs to conform to the District’s hair length policy.  Because similarly situated girls would not have been in violation of the District’s policy, the boys and their parents brought suit, alleging that the hair length policy unlawfully discriminates on the basis of sex (among other bases) in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  Plaintiffs further allege that the District retaliated against one of the parents in violation of Title IX.  On June 21, 2021, the District filed a Motion for Partial Dismissal, arguing primarily that Fifth Circuit precedent establishes a per se rule barring judicial review of all school hair length regulations and that a parent lacks standing to bring a Title IX retaliation claim.  In its statement of interest, the United States advises the court that there is no binding Fifth Circuit precedent barring review of plaintiffs’ sex-based challenges to the District’s hair length policy.  The United States further advises that Title IX applies to all aspects of a federal funding recipient’s education programs and activities, including its dress and grooming code, and that parents of minor schoolchildren have standing to bring Title IX retaliation claims.  Applying the proper Equal Protection Clause and Title IX standards, the United States concludes that plaintiffs adequately allege that the District’s hair length policy unlawfully discriminates on the basis of sex in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX, and that the District unlawfully retaliated against a parent who complained about the hair length policy’s discriminatory effect.  For this reason, the United States asserts that the District’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ sex discrimination claims should be denied. 

On January 28, 1975, Mississippi was sued for maintaining an unconstitutional dual system of higher education. Plaintiffs argued that Mississippi denied equal opportunities to black students and faculty members by favoring the State's historically white colleges and universities at the expense of its historically black colleges and universities, and by failing to remove the vestiges of racial segregation in the former de jure dual system. On April 21, 1975, the Section intervened and joined the plaintiffs in seeking injunctive relief that would bring Mississippi's higher education system into conformity with constitutional and statutory provisions.

After a trial, the district court and appellate court found for the defendants, but, in 1992, the Supreme Court overturned the lower courts' decisions and remanded the case to the district court to determine if Mississippi had taken the necessary steps to ensure that a student's choice of college was indeed free and unconstrained by Mississippi's former discriminatory policies. The case marked the first time that the Supreme Court defined the applicable legal standards for higher education desegregation.

On February 15, 2002, the court entered a final judgment approving a $503 million settlement . Endorsed by the Mississippi legislature, the settlement will fund a comprehensive plan over a seventeen-year period aimed at improving academic programs, making capital improvements, and expanding summer programs at the State's historically black colleges and universities. The State also will recognize the historically black Jackson State University as a comprehensive university. The district court dismissed the case, but has retained jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement.

On January 30, 2017, the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana approved a consent order that addresses the remaining issues in the desegregation case and when fully implemented will lead to its closing. The consent order, negotiated with the school district (the “District”) and private plaintiffs, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, puts the District on a path to full unitary status within three years provided it:

  • Implements a new student assignment plan that desegregates its three nearly all-black elementary schools to the extent practicable, by revising feeder patterns and creating specialized academic programs that will attract a diverse student body;
  • Revises the District’s code of conduct to ensure fairness and consistency in the handling of subjective disciplinary offenses that do not threaten safety, and provides District staff with additional tools to address student misbehavior in nondiscriminatory ways;
  • Takes reasonable steps to recruit a diverse pool of applicants for faculty and staff vacancies that arise in the course of implementing the new student assignment plan; and
  • Incorporates into its student handbook a statement prohibiting discrimination in extracurricular activities and encouraging participation by students of all races.

The consent order declares that the District has already met its desegregation obligations in the area of transportation. The court will retain jurisdiction over the consent order during its implementation, and the Justice Department will monitor the district’s compliance. For more information, please see this press release .

This longstanding desegregation case was filed in 1965 by private plaintiffs, with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and local cooperating attorneys serving as counsel. The United States intervened later that year. In 1969, the Fifth Circuit entered a desegregation order permanently enjoined the District from discriminating on the basis of race or color in the operation of the Meridian schools. In 2010, as part of efforts to enforce the desegregation order, the department began to investigate complaints that the District had implemented a harsh and punitive student discipline policy that resulted in the disproportionate suspension, expulsion, and school-based arrest of black students in Meridian schools. The department found that these kinds of disparities persisted even when the students were at the same school, were of similar ages, and had similar disciplinary histories.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the United States and the District engaged in extensive negotiations, resulting in a proposed consent decree filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi on March 22, 2013. Along with the proposed consent decree, the parties jointly filed a motion to approve the decree , and the United States separately filed a memorandum of law . Under the consent decree, the district will take steps to create safe and inclusive learning environments in all Meridian schools, including providing students with supports and interventions before excluding them from school; limiting the use of discipline measures that remove students from the classroom; ensuring that discipline consequences are fair and consistent; establishing clear guidelines for when law enforcement intervention is appropriate; providing training to give teachers and administrators the tools necessary to manage their schools in a safe, effective and positive manner; and building data-driven monitoring and accountability systems. On May 30, 2013, the Court adopted the consent order .

For more information regarding the proposed consent decree, please see this press release .

On June 21, 2010, the Division filed a Motion for Leave to file an amicus brief in Biediger, et al. v. Quinnipiac University. Plaintiffs allege that Quinnipiac failed to provide female students an equal opportunity to participate in varsity intercollegiate athletics, and that this failure constituted intentional sex discrimination in violation of Title IX and 34 C.F.R. § 106.41(c)(1). The plaintiffs allege that Quinnipiac misrepresented its athletic participation numbers by, among other things, requiring women’s teams to artificially increase their number of participants, resulting in some members lacking a genuine varsity athletic participation opportunity; underrepresenting the number of male athletes on teams; eliminating the women's volleyball program; and counting participants on its cheer squad as a sport under Title IX. The United States' amicus brief provided guidance as to what constitutes a genuine participation opportunity, as well as guidance concerning what constitutes a sport for Title IX compliance.

On October 1, 2010, the Section, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR), and the Boston Public Schools (BPS) entered into a Settlement Agreement to resolve violations of English Language Learner (ELL) students' rights under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. § 1703(f), and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 20 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq. The 2010 Agreement , which grew out of the Section’s and OCR’s joint compliance review of BPS' ELL programs, was needed to address as soon as possible its failure to test approximately 7,000 students in reading and writing to determine if they were ELL students and over 4,000 known ELL students whom it had misidentified as having opted out of ELL programs between 2003 and 2009. The 2010 Agreement secured ELL and compensatory services for the more than 4,000 misidentified “opt out” students and the 4,300 of the 7,000 students who were improperly identified as non-ELL students. The 2010 Agreement further required BPS to provide all ELL students with English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction by ESL-certified teachers and Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) content classes by teachers trained to provide SEI instruction. While BPS was implementing the 2010 Agreement, OCR and DOJ completed the remainder of their compliance review and negotiated a Successor Agreement with BPS to resolve the additional areas of noncompliance identified in the review. The April 19, 2012 Successor Agreement replaced the 2010 Settlement Agreement and provides systemic, comprehensive relief across BPS’s ELL programs, procedures, and practices. The Successor Agreement requires, inter alia: accurate and timely identification of ELL students; appropriate ESL and SEI services provided by qualified faculty; meaningful communications with Limited English Proficient parents through translations and qualified interpreters; assessments and services specially designed to meet the needs of ELL students who face unique challenges, such as students with disabilities and students with interrupted formal education; and greater access for ELL students to the higher-level learning opportunities in BPS. To ensure these programmatic changes are effective, the agreement further requires BPS to evaluate the effect of these changes on student achievement over time through robust, disaggregated data analyses. For more information on both agreements, please see the 2010 press release and 2012 press release .

In this matter involving the Bound Brook New Jersey School District, the Section reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs) as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). Based on its review of the district, the Section raised concerns about, among other things: the school district's procedures for screening new students to determine whether they are ELLs; ELLs' access to basic skills instruction, special education services, and academic enrichment programs; the opportunities that ELLs have to integrate with native speakers of English in a school setting; and monitoring of students currently enrolled in the ELL program and those students who have exited from the program. The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues and on October 16, 2003, entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district was required to take to ensure its compliance with the EEOA. The agreement required the district to provide, among other things: timely assessment of all students with non-English speaking backgrounds; quality curricula and instruction for ELLs; adequate teacher training; and careful monitoring and reporting on the academic progress of current and former ELLs. After the district compiled in good faith with the settlement agreement, the agreement ended on January 12, 2007.

On June 17, 2021, the Section and the U.S. Department of Education filed a statement of interest to assist the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in evaluating the Title IX and Equal Protection claims in B.P.J. v. West Virginia State Board of Education, et al. , Case No. 2:21-cv-00316.  In this case, the plaintiff, an 11-year-old girl who is transgender, challenged H.B. 3293, a state law that prohibits girls who are transgender from participating on female interscholastic, intercollegiate, intramural, or club athletic teams or sports that are sponsored by any public secondary school or state institution of higher education.  She asked the court to enjoin West Virginia from enforcing H.B. 3293 and allow her to participate on girls’ sports teams consistent with her gender identity.  The plaintiff alleged that H.B. 3293 requires her school, a recipient of federal financial assistance, to exclude her from school athletics on the basis of sex, causing her harm in violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  The plaintiff also alleges that H.B. 3293 violates the Equal Protection Clause because the state law discriminates against her because of sex and gender identity and is not substantially related to an exceedingly persuasive justification.  In its statement of interest , the United States advised the court that Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause prohibit discrimination against students because of their sex, including because a student is transgender.  The United States concluded that the plaintiff was likely to succeed on these claims in support of her motion for a preliminary injunction. 

Memorandum and Order - B.P.J. v. West Virginia State Board of Education

On November 13, 2019, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont entered into a Settlement Agreement with the Burlington School District in Burlington, Vermont, to resolve an investigation into allegations of sex discrimination.  The Section initiated its investigation in response to a complaint by a group of parents alleging that their children had been subject to severe and pervasive sex-based harassment, including assault, that went unaddressed by the District.  As a result, their children feared for their safety and several withdrew from the school.  Under the Agreement, the District will take a number of steps to improve its ability to prevent and appropriately respond to peer-on-peer harassment based on sex.  Those steps include retaining the technical assistance of the Mid Atlantic Equity Center to support a review of the District’s sex-based harassment policies, practices, and procedures as well as the District’s training on and implementation protocols for such policies.  The Agreement further requires that the District work with the Equity Center to assess its resources and build capacity at individual schools and at the District-level to ensure that all schools have the capacity to implement fully the District’s policies and procedures.  Under the Agreement, the District will provide particularized training for students and faculty at the elementary school implicated in the complaint, and will conduct climate surveys at that school to assess the presence and effects of harassment and bullying, the inclusiveness and safety of the educational environment, and the effectiveness of the measures taken pursuant to the Agreement.  The Agreement will be in place through the 2021-22 school year.    

On July 14, 2014, the Division filed a Statement of Interest in D.J. et al v. State of California , a state case brought by parents and guardians of English Language Learner (ELL) students against the State of California and the California Department of Education (CDE) among others, which alleged that the State violated the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (“EEOA”) by failing to respond to credible information that tens of thousands of ELL students were not receiving ELL instructional services.  The Division’s Statement of Interest articulated what the United States maintains are the correct legal standards governing the State’s obligations under the EEOA, including monitoring local education agencies (LEAs) provision of EL instructional services.  In an August 12, 2014 decision, the state court ruled that the State had violated the EEOA and ordered it to take remedial action, reiterating many of the legal standards discussed in the United States’ brief.  In November 2014, the State appealed the ruling, and then subsequently settled the appeal and all of D.J. plaintiffs’ claims in a private settlement approved by the state court.

Applying the standards in the Statement of Interest in its own EEOA compliance review of the State’s monitoring practices, the Division notified CDE and the California State Board of Education in a letter dated May 22, 2015, that the State was not meeting its obligations under the EEOA and needed to respond promptly and appropriately to ensure LEAs provide their EL students with appropriate EL instructional services.  On September 8, 2016, the Division and the State settled the matter in a two-year settlement agreement that requires the State to respond in a timely and effective manner to credible evidence that LEAs are failing to serve their ELLs, including notifying them of violations and providing a protocol by which they must submit to CDE documented evidence that resolves the violations.  The agreement also requires CDE to: consider LEAs’ reports of unserved ELs when selecting schools for monitoring reviews; improve CDE’s online monitoring tool; require that schools found to be out of compliance with specific requirements in this online tool receive onsite monitoring if they fail to provide adequate evidence that the noncompliance has been resolved; and develop and provide training on the monitoring, review, and corrective action processes associated with CDE’s system of monitoring schools for ELL service violations.  For more information, please see the press release .

In this religious discrimination case, the plaintiffs alleged that their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments were violated when the school board excluded them from using school facilities for a "prayer meeting" at which civic and social issues would be discussed. The school board permits community groups and non-students to use school facilities for a wide variety of civic and recreational purposes such as luncheons, homeowner association meetings, seminars, and athletic activities. The policy permits groups to use school facilities to engage in discussions having a "religious viewpoint," but not to engage in "religious services or instruction." Relying on this distinction, the board denied facility access to the plaintiffs on the grounds that the proposed prayer meeting was a religious service rather than a meeting presented from a religious viewpoint. On April 25, 2003, the Section filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, arguing that (1) plaintiffs' proposed meeting fits well within the forum created under the school board's facility use policy, and (2) there is no legal or practical distinction between religious viewpoints on a topic and "religious services or instruction." On June 3, 2003, the Section filed an amicus brief in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment.

On July 10, 2003, the court held a hearing on the parties' motions in which the Section participated. On July 29, 2003, the court issued an order granting summary judgment for plaintiffs. The court concluded that although the plaintiffs' proposed meeting was primarily a religious service, it also included a discussion of family and political issues from a legally protected religious viewpoint. Thus, the court held that the proposed meeting was not "mere religious worship," but included speech that the school district permitted through its facility use policy. The school district therefore improperly denied the plaintiffs access to school facilities for their evening meeting. On February 19, 2004, the case was dismissed.

On February 19, 2021, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio opened an investigation into Case Western Reserve University’s (“CWRU”) response to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, and sexual misconduct in its Greek Life community.  The Department’s investigation included interviews with former and current campus employees, students, and alumni, and an extensive review of CWRU’s polices grievance procedures, training, and response to reports of sexual harassment.

On August 22, 2023, the Department and CWRU reached a resolution agreement under Title IX to address the areas of noncompliance identified through the Department’s investigation.  Under the agreement, CWRU will, among other steps: reorganize the Title IX reporting structure to remove it from the purview of the Office of General Counsel and ensure CWRU follows its grievance procedures free from conflicts of interest; promote greater awareness about the Office of Equity and the Title IX Coordinator; require annual training for all students and employees; invest resources into enhanced prevention programming and training for CWRU fraternities and sororities; conduct campus-wide outreach; and implement a campus-wide student survey to better serve its community.  The Department will carefully monitor the CWRU’s implementation of this agreement, which will remain in place through the 2025-2026 academic year.  For more information, please see this letter , press release , and a plain-language summary  of the agreement.

On September 12, 2022, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with the Cedar Rapids Community School District in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities. The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on allegations that the school district engaged in improper seclusion and restraint practices. Under the settlement agreement, the school district will take proactive steps to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities. The district will, among other steps: end its use of seclusion; limit its use of restraint, revise its restraint procedures and practices, and consistently implement those procedures and practices in all schools; report all instances of restraint and evaluate if they were justified; offer counseling and other services to students who are restrained; adopt policies and procedures to assess suicide risk, prevent suicide and self-harm, and implement immediate crisis intervention for students who threaten or engage in self-harm; designate trained staff to collect and analyze restraint data and oversee the creation of appropriate behavior intervention plans; deliver appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement; and hire two new administrators to oversee schools’ use of restraint and ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA. For more information, please see this letter ,  press release , and  summary of settlement agreement .

In this matter involving Charleston County School District in Charleston, South Carolina, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina conducted an investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.  The United States received complaints that the school district failed to communicate essential information to Spanish-speaking, limited English proficient (LEP) parents, denying their children full and equal access to the school district’s education programs and services.  The United States found that, over the course of several years, the school district often failed to use qualified interpreters to communicate with Spanish-speaking LEP parents and guardians, even when their need for an interpreter was documented or otherwise evident.  The United States also found that the school district did not consistently translate essential written information into Spanish, and asked parents who can only communicate in Spanish to make important decisions about school programs and services without explaining the options in a language they understand. 

On March 2, 2021, the United States entered into a settlement agreement  with the school district to ensure that the school district and each its 80 schools and programs use qualified interpreters and translators to communicate with LEP parents about matters essential to their children’s education, including special education services.  The agreement requires, among other things, that the district take proactive steps by: developing and implementing effective language access policies and procedures; training faculty and staff on how to properly identify and meaningfully communicate with LEP parents and guardians; informing LEP parents and guardians of their right to language access services at special-education related meetings and receive translated special-education related documents; and providing a language-assessment report and bi-annual compliance reports to DOJ.  For more information, please see this press release  and a translated version in Spanish .  A translated version of the agreement is available in Spanish .

On July 9, 2004, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), an organization that sponsors after-school Good News Bible Clubs, filed a complaint and a motion for preliminary injunction, alleging that officials of the Upland Unified School District (California) discriminated against CEF by allowing non-profit organizations such as the Boy Scouts free use of school facilities while at the same time charging religious organizations such as CEF rent equal to “direct costs.”

The United States filed a motion to participate as amicus curiae in this matter, as the United States is charged with enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes the Attorney General to seek relief if a school deprives students of the equal protections of the laws. The Court granted the United States’ motion.

The United States filed a brief in support of plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The United States argued that the district’s practice of charging religious groups a fee to use school facilities for activities serving local youth when the district does not charge secular groups a fee to use facilities serving local youth violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the fee discriminated against CEF’s religious viewpoint.

On November 15, 2004, the Court granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction thereby enjoining the district from requiring CEF to pay any rental fees or other fees that are not required of other non-profit community organizations for use of the district’s facilities.

Then, on February 4, 2005, the Court entered a Stipulated Dismissal without prejudice with an attached Settlement Agreement stating that the district agreed, among other terms, to permit CEF equal access to school facilities on the same terms and conditions as other similar non-profit groups.

The department conducted a compliance review of the English Language Learner (ELL) program at the Clay County School District in Alabama to determine whether ELL students were receiving services required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). On June 19, 2014, a settlement agreement was reached that will ensure that this rural district takes appropriate action to serve its small but growing population of ELL students, including: increasing services for ELL students, obtaining additional English as a Second Language-certified instructors, conducting significant professional development for teachers, providing adequate materials and classroom supports for ELL students, monitoring the academic performance of current and former ELL students and improving language-accessible communication with limited English proficient parents. For more information, please see this press release .

Settlement Agreement in: Spanish

Press Release in: Spanish

In this matter involving the Clay County School District, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida investigated whether the District was providing appropriate language services to its English Learner (“EL”) students, as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”). The investigation revealed that the District was not appropriately identifying EL students or providing them with the educational services and supports needed for EL students to become proficient in English and participate equally in school. On October 30, 2023, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement . Under the agreement, the District will modify its practices so that EL students are properly assessed and identified shortly after their enrollment, promptly provided with language services if they qualify and have the opportunity to equally benefit from the academic and behavioral supports provided to their peers. The District will also make certain that all teachers are qualified, trained and provided enough support and resources to help EL students become fluent in English and understand their core-content courses. The District will also translate and interpret important school information for parents who are not fluent in English. For more information, please see the press release in English , Spanish , and Haitian-Creole . The agreement is available in English , Spanish , and Haitian-Creole , and summaries of the agreement are available in English , Spanish , and Haitian-Creole .

In this matter involving the Colton Joint Unified School District in California, the United States investigated whether the district’s programming for English learners was adequate under Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. After a multi-year investigation conducted by the Educational Opportunities Section along with the U.S. Attorneys’ Office for the Central District of California, the United States found that English learners in the district did not receive adequate English language instruction, and that core content teachers did not have the requisite training to meet English learner needs in math, science and social studies courses. On December 19, 2022, the United States entered an out-of-court settlement agreement with the district to ensure that every English learner in the district receives English language instruction, and that teachers working with English learners are trained and qualified to meet their needs. The district will also implement additional changes to ensure that English learners have an equal opportunity to participate in the district’s various programs, including programs for gifted and talented students. The agreement will remain in place for three years. For more information please see this press release in English and Spanish ( español ).

In this sex discrimination case, high school girls in Michigan filed a complaint alleging that the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They contended that MHSAA refused to sanction additional sports for high school girls, provided inferior practice and playing facilities for post-season tournaments held in certain girls' sports, and required girls to play certain sports in disadvantageous seasons. This last contention allegedly reduced participation opportunities for high school girls by shortening playing seasons, thereby preventing participation in club competitions and all-star competitions involving players from other states and negatively affecting their chances of being recruited for collegiate-level sports programs. On September 7, 1999, the Section was granted leave to participate as litigating amicus curiae and filed an amicus brief at the summary judgment stage, arguing that the case should go forward under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. On January 21, 2002, the court ruled in plaintiffs' favor, allowing the case to proceed to trial.

In the summer of 2001, the parties participated in mediation which resulted in a settlement of all claims except for the issue of playing seasons. The court conducted a two-week bench trial in September 2001 and received evidence concerning the following questions: (1) whether MHSAA, by assuming controlling authority over interscholastic athletics from member schools that receive federal funds, is subject to Title IX; (2) whether MHSAA is a state actor for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) whether MHSAA's scheduling of only girls' sports in disadvantageous seasons violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. On December 17, 2001, the court issued its ruling finding in favor of the plaintiffs and the Section on all three issues. See Communities for Equity v. Michigan High Sch. Athletic Ass'n , 178 F. Supp.2d 805 (W.D. Mich. 2001). The court held that MHSAA is subject to Title IX and is a state actor for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In so holding, the court further concluded that MHSAA's scheduling practices violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. Lastly, the court ordered MHSAA to submit a compliance plan to remedy the discriminatory scheduling of girls' sports.

The Section filed an opposition to the compliance plan in June 2002. After reviewing briefing on the issue of the remedial plan and conducting a hearing on the matter, the Court issued a ruling requiring MHSAA to switch girls' basketball and volleyball to their traditional, advantageous seasons of the winter and fall respectively. The Court ultimately approved the rest of MHSAA's remedial plan, finding that the switching of the remaining sports at issue (soccer, golf, tennis, swimming, and diving) balanced the inequity of nontraditional playing seasons amongst high school boys and girls in Michigan.

MHSAA appealed the district court's rulings on liability and the remedial plan to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the Sixth Circuit. The Division filed an amicus brief in August 2003. In July 2004, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that MHSAA's scheduling of sports violates the Equal Protection Clause. MHSAA then appealed to the Supreme Court, which instructed the Sixth Circuit to reconsider the case. On August 16, 2006, the Sixth Circuit issued an opinion that again affirmed the district court's ruling that the sports schedule discriminates against female athletes on the basis of sex. On December 7, 2006, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied rehearing and rehearing en banc. On April 2, 2007, the United States Supreme Court denied review of MHSAA's petition for certiorari.

In 1999, the Section intervened in this lawsuit alleging the Denver Public Schools (DPS) violated Title VI and the EEOA by failing to take appropriate actions to overcome language barriers of its English Language Learner (ELL) students. On June 16,1999, the district court approved a new English Language Acquisition Plan for the Denver Public Schools.

The result of compliance monitoring by the Section and the Congress of Hispanic Educators (CHE), and DPS’s recognition that the 1999 order no longer reflected the district’s own best practices for serving ELL students, moved the parties to develop a new consent decree to replace the existing plan. On April 16, 2013 the district court in Denver approved a comprehensive consent decree between the Department of Justice, CHE, and DPS that requires DPS to provide language services to the more than 28,000 ELL students enrolled in the district’s 170 schools.

The consent decree requires the district to implement comprehensive measures to ensure that ELLs have equal opportunities to succeed academically in district educational programs, starting with the proper identification of ELL students when they enter DPS.  Among other things, the consent decree requires DPS to: provide language acquisition services to ELL students in district schools, including charter schools, until they are proficient in English and to monitor ELL students after they exit services to ensure they are participating meaningfully and equally in mainstream classes; to make translation and interpretation services available for thousands of Limited English Proficient parents who speak more than 130 different languages – ensuring that all parents have access to essential information about their children’s education;  to provide Pre-K language services at each school where DPS offers early childhood education; and to make  appropriate language services available for ELL students who face unique challenges, including refugee students and students with disabilities.

For more information about the 2013 Consent Decree, please see the following fact sheet available in: English | አማርኛ (Amharic) | العربية (Arabic) | မြန်မာစကား (Burmese) | Soomaali (Somali) | Español (Spanish) | Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese) .

The June 16, 2009 complaint alleges that FHSAA’s new policy discriminates against female students by reducing the maximum number of competitions that a school can schedule by 20% for varsity teams and 40% for sub-varsity teams while exempting 36,000 boys who play football and only 4,300 girls and 201 boys who participate in competitive cheerleading. The complaint also alleges that OCR has not recognized competitive cheerleading as a sport under Title IX and that even if it were recognized as a sport, the new policy exempts nearly nine times as many boys than girls from the reductions in their competition schedule. The complaint further alleges that FHSAA sanctions football for a total of 23 weeks of coaching, practices, and competitions, while the majority of girls’ sports operate for only a total of 15 weeks. The plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction on June 19, 2009. The defendant filed a motion to dismiss on July1, 2009. On July 14th, the Division filed a motion for leave to file an amicus brief in opposition to the defendant’s motion to dismiss and in support of plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction. The United States’ amicus brief argues that plaintiffs’ allegations establish claims of intentional discrimination, not just disparate impact, under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause that are sufficiently detailed to survive the motion to dismiss. The brief also argues that there is a substantial likelihood that the Title IX and Equal Protection claims will succeed on the merits, and that the court should preliminarily enjoin new Policy 6. On July 15, the court granted the United States’ motion for leave to file its brief and its request for oral argument at a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for July 17. Shortly thereafter on July 15, FHSAA voted unanimously to rescind its challenged policy. On July 16, 2009, the court cancelled the preliminary injunction hearing because the plaintiffs and defendants agreed that FHSAA’s rescission of the policy rendered the motion for a preliminary injunction moot. On October 21, 2009, the court issued an order granting the parties’ agreed motion to dismiss the case without prejudice and retaining jurisdiction to enforce the terms of their settlement until December 31, 2010.

In this matter involving the Coolidge Unified School District (“the District”) in Arizona, the Section examined whether the District’s instructional services and materials for English Learner (EL) students and its training for their teachers and administrators complied with Section 1703(f) of the Equal Opportunities Act of 1974.  On April 16, 2021, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to resolve the District’s compliance issues identified by the United States.  The agreement requires the District to improve and increase language instruction for EL students so they can become fluent in English and understand the coursework in all of their academic subjects.  The agreement also requires the district to provide robust teacher and administrator training, obtain the special materials and curricula that English learner students need to succeed academically, and actively evaluate students’ progress over time.  The agreement will remain in place for three full school years.  For more information, please see this press release in English and Spanish . A translated version of the agreement is available in Spanish .

In this longstanding desegregation case involving the Franklin County Board of Education (North Carolina), the Section monitors the school district's compliance with existing court orders. The school district achieved partial unitary status in certain areas in 2002 and additional areas in 2018 . The court retains jurisdiction over the Green factor of student assignment, including the school district’s administration of discipline and its gifted and talented programs.

On April 13, 2000, the school district moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that it had attained unitary status. On November 22, 2000, the Section filed a  memorandum  opposing, in part, the school district's motion. On June 24, 2002, the district court held that the school district was partially unitary with respect to school transportation, extracurricular activities, school construction and facilities, student transfers, and faculty desegregation. On June 17, 2003, the Court approved a Consent Order governing the school district’s remaining areas of obligation (student assignment, staff desegregation, and quality of education). A new student assignment plan was approved in a May 2005 order .

At the court’s request, in a January 2018 response to the school district’s annual report the Section identified two areas of ongoing district noncompliance with the 2003 Consent Order that pertain to the assignment of students within schools: (1) discipline that excludes students from schools and classrooms; and (2) the referral and assignment of students to the gifted and talented program. With the consent of the  school district, the Section simultaneously filed a joint motion to declare the district partially unitary and approve a proposed stipulation with regard to several of the school district’s remaining desegregation obligations. Separately, counsel for Plaintiffs asked the Court to require the school district to provide notice of the proposed changes and invite public comment before dismissing any part of the 2003 Order. The Court granted plaintiffs’ counsel’s request.

Having provided the public appropriate notice and an opportunity to submit comments pursuant to a court-approved schedule, the United States and the school district filed a Joint Motion and Memorandum of Support on December 14, 2018, to declare the District partially unitary with respect to desegregation of staff and the following quality of education areas governed by the 2003 Order: academic achievement, advanced course offerings and enrollment, special education program, and student dropouts. The court granted the joint motion in an order dated December 18, 2018.

This case was brought by the Henrico County School Board (board) to appeal a Virginia hearing officer’s decision in favor of R.T.’s parents’ private school placement. R.T. is an autistic child entitled to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The hearing officer agreed with R.T.’s parents that the board failed to provide R.T. with a FAPE and that the private school placement was a FAPE. One issue before the federal district court was which party should pay for the private school placement pending the board’s appeal of the state hearing officer’s decision. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s regulation, 34 C.F.R. §300.514(c), which implements the IDEA’s stay put provision, 20 U.S.C. §1415(j), the board should fund the placement while litigation is pending. The board challenged the validity of the statutory and regulatory stay put provisions, and the Section filed an amicus brief on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to defend both provisions. The Section argued that the regulation was consistent with the plain meaning of the statutory provision and that the statutory provision was a valid exercise of the Spending Clause power. On June 22, 2006, the court issued an opinion rejecting the board’s Spending Clause challenge and agreeing with the United States that the board must pay for R.T.’s private pendent placement.

On January 18, 2017, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with the Covington Independent Public Schools to ensure the District does not discriminate on the basis of disability in its administration of school discipline. The agreement will guarantee that the District provides reasonable modifications of school policy for students with disabilities to avoid the use of exclusionary discipline, isolation, seclusion, or restraint, and contact with law enforcement. The agreement will also replace the use of punitive discipline with more positive approaches as part of an overall focus on improving student achievement and school climate.

This is a cooperative resolution of the Justice Department’s investigation, opened in November 2015 in response to complaints that the District’s discipline practices discriminated on the basis of race and disability. As a part of the settlement agreement, the District will continue its current practice of not stationing School Resource Officers (SROs) at elementary schools; cease requesting SROs to enforce disciplinary rules; eliminate the use of seclusion and isolation rooms; prohibit the use of restraints unless there is imminent danger to the physical safety of the student or others; develop a protocol to identify students who are disproportionately subject to disciplinary referrals, particularly those students who receive exclusionary discipline as a result, and provide those students with interventions and supports intended to reduce disciplinary actions; take prompt and effective steps to help students who are in crisis; implement a code of conduct that focuses on positive interventions, rather than punitive discipline; and train administrators and teachers on how to provide all students with effective interventions and supports.

On August 7, 2017, Cleveland Central High School and Cleveland Central Middle School opened in Cleveland, Mississippi, a major milestone in this longstanding desegregation case, which was initially filed in 1965 by private plaintiffs (the United States intervened in 1985).

On May 2, 2011, the United States had filed a motion for further relief asking the court to find that the district had violated its desegregation obligations under several previously-entered desegregation orders governing the District, and to compel the district's compliance with federal law. In its brief , the United States argued that, while the district had been governed by desegregation orders for more than 42 years, the predominantly black schools on the east side of the District had never been desegregated. The United States further asserted that the ratio of black and white faculty at numerous District schools reinforced the reputation of those schools in the community as "white" or "black" schools. The district filed an opposition brief on August 18, 2011, and the United States filed a reply brief on October 6, 2011.

In an opinion issued on March 28, 2012, the court determined that two schools, a middle school and high school that were formerly de jure black schools, had never been desegregated. The court also found that the ratio of black and white faculty at every school in the District deviated from the district-wide faculty ratio. The court ordered the district to submit a proposed desegregation plan addressing these issues. On December 11, 2012, following a hearing on the District’s proposed plan, the Court issued an order and opinion , finding that the District's proposal did not meet constitutional requirements and ordering the District to implement a "freedom of choice" plan for its middle and high school students.

On February 21, 2013, the United States filed a motion asking the Court to reconsider its remedial order, arguing in its brief that "freedom of choice" was an inadequate remedy in this case. The Court denied the motion in an April 30, 2013 order . On April 1, 2014, following the United States' appeal of the court's remedial order, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued an opinion reversing and remanding for further proceedings. On January 23, 2015, the United States submitted a proposed desegregation plan to the Court. The district filed two separate plans. The United States objected to the District's plans on February 13, 2015 and responded to the District's objections to its plan on February 27, 2015. The court held a five-day evidentiary hearing on the proposed plans in May 2015. 

On May 13, 2016, the Court approved the U.S. plan and ordered the Cleveland School District to consolidate its secondary schools, rejecting as unconstitutional both of the District’s proposals. For more information on the Court’s order, please see this press release .  After several months during which the District proceeded with an appeal of the Court’s May 2016 decision to the Fifth Circuit and submitted additional proposals to the district court, the Parties reached an agreement.  On February 8, 2017, the Parties filed a Joint Motion for Modification of the Court’s May 2016 Order that would end the appeal and remove the additional proposals from the district court’s consideration.  In a March 13 order , the Court granted the Parties’ motion, and on March 17, 2017, the Court issued an updated implementation timeline . For more information on the Court’s order, please see this press release .

Cleveland Central High School opened to all District 9th-12th graders and Cleveland Central Middle School opened to all District 7th-8th graders in August 2017.  The Department of Justice will continue to monitor the District’s compliance with the Court’s orders and federal law.

In this matter involving the Crestwood School District in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, the Department investigated a complaint alleging violations of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, 20 U.S.C. §1703 et seq., related to the district's English Language Learner (ELL) program, as well as claims of employment discrimination and unlawful retaliation. On August 13, 2014, the Department and the district entered into a comprehensive, multi-part Settlement Agreement. The agreement requires the district to ensure all of its ELL students, most of whom are native Arabic speakers, receive appropriate English as a Second Language and sheltered content instruction taught by teachers who are properly qualified and trained. The district also must provide ELL students and limited English proficient parents with meaningful access to important information, including discipline and special education materials and procedures. Pursuant to the agreement, the district will work with the Department' Community Relations Service to improve parental outreach and community engagement, establish a community advisory panel, and implementing training on cultural competency. The district also will retain a qualified consultant to help it draft a comprehensive recruitment and hiring policy and implement best practices for recruiting, hiring, and retaining a qualified and diverse faculty and staff. The agreement also requires the district to institute internal complaint processes to investigate and resolve allegations of employment discrimination and/or retaliation. The district's compliance with the agreement will be monitored for four years. For more information, please see this press release .

Settlement Agreement in: Arabic

Press Release in: Arabic

On June 16, 2004, the parents of a 5th-grade student at the Hadley School Program for the Creative and Academically Talented sued the school district of the City of Saginaw, Michigan for allegedly discriminating against the student’s religious beliefs. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the district prohibited him from “selling” candy cane ornaments with an attached card explaining the religious origin of the candy cane as part of “Classroom City”–a multi-disciplinary marketplace town simulation that was part of the school’s social studies curriculum. The district conceded that the student had properly followed the assignment’s directions and received a grade of A for the simulation. Both the plaintiffs and the district filed cross motions for summary judgment.

The United States filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The United States argued that the district’s censorship of student religious speech that otherwise fulfills the assignment criteria violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments proscribing government regulation of speech that discriminates against a particular point of view–here a religious viewpoint. On September 18, 2006, the Court issued an opinion finding that the district had abridged the plaintiff student’s First Amendment free speech rights, but granted the district’s motion for summary judgment on other grounds.

On September 7, 2022, the Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, and the U.S. Department of Education filed a statement of interest in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Czerwienski, et. al. v. Harvard University, et. al .  The plaintiffs in this case are doctoral students at Harvard University who allege that they were retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment by a professor.  Harvard argues that it cannot be held liable for any retaliatory acts by the professor.  The United States’ brief clarifies that a recipient of federal financial assistance, like Harvard University, may be held liable for damages under Title IX where retaliatory conduct amounts to an official act of the recipient or where the recipient is deliberately indifferent to its employee’s retaliatory conduct.

On July 17, 2019, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah notified the Davis School District in Utah that we had opened an investigation under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in response to parent complaints that Davis deprived students of equal protection of the law based on race. The Department’s investigation principally focused on Davis’s response to serious and widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian-American students.  The Department also investigated reports that Davis disciplined Black students more harshly than their white peers for similar behavior and that Davis denied Black students the ability to form student groups while supporting similar requests by other students.  After conducting over 100 interviews and an extensive review of Davis’s policies, trainings, discipline and other records, and responses to reports of racial harassment and other discrimination, the Department concluded that Davis violated students’ equal protection rights.

On September 15, 2021, the Department issued a  letter  notifying Davis of the Department’s conclusions, and on October 20, 2021, the Department entered into a settlement agreement  with Davis to address its violations of the Equal Protection Clause.  Under the Agreement, Davis will take significant steps to prevent and appropriately respond to racial harassment and other discrimination, including to: create a new department to handle complaints of race discrimination; train staff on how to identify, investigate, and respond to complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices; inform students and parents of how to report harassment and discrimination; create a centralized, electronic reporting system to track and manage complaints and Davis’s response to complaints; implement student, staff, and parent training and education on identifying and preventing race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment; analyze and review discipline data and amend policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies; and develop a districtwide procedure to assess requests for student groups and treat such requests fairly.  The Department will carefully monitor Davis’s implementation of this agreement, which will remain in place through the 2024-2025 school year. For more information, please see this  summary and the  press release . An Amendment to the 2021 Agreement is available, here .

In October 2012, counsel for the Sikh Coalition filed a complaint with the Department of Justice alleging that a middle school student had been repeatedly targeted with verbal and physical harassment because of his Sikh faith. The United States has authority to investigate and resolve complaints of religious and national origin harassment through its enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Following an inquiry into the student-specific complaints, the United States notified the district of its concerns that the district had failed to respond promptly and appropriately to the Sikh Coalition's allegations of harassment, including allegations that the student was called "Aladdin" because he wore a turban and was told by a fellow student to "go back to his country." The United States also raised concerns that the district had not investigated witness statements that the student had been called a "terrorist" and that there was a history of fellow students targeting him because of his turban. The United States also found that the disciplinary measures the district did take had not been effective in ending the harassment, and that the student feared continued harassment.

The district worked cooperatively with the United States to resolve the complaint and ensure greater protections for the student. The May 2013 Resolution Agreement, which will be in effect until the end of the 2014-2015 school year, requires the district to: work with a consultant to develop and implement anti-harassment training at the student's middle and high school; immediately implement a safety plan to ensure that the student is safe at school and, should incidents of harassment occur, that the district responds quickly and effectively; and meet with the student, his family, and administrators from his middle school and the high school where he will enroll, to identify key school personnel who can support the student should any future incidents of harassment occur. The Parties also agreed to continue to work collaboratively to resolve the United States' remaining concerns regarding the district's anti-harassment policies, procedures, and practices, and to ensure that district students and employees had appropriate training and guidelines on their federal civil rights and obligations as they pertain to harassment based on religion and national origin.

As a result of that joint effort, the district and the United States agreed to a second Resolution Agreement in November 2014 that supplements the existing and operative May 2013 agreement. The districtwide agreement, which will be in effect through the 2016-2017 school year, is designed to enhance the district's ability to prevent and respond to peer-on-peer harassment based on national origin and religion and to provide clear and consistent procedures for reporting, investigating, and responding to such conduct. The agreement requires the district to: review and revise all district anti-harassment and discipline policies and procedures to ensure consistency with the district's obligations under federal law; ensure that parents and students with limited English proficiency have access to essential information, including discipline policies and procedures, in a language they understand; develop and implement annual age- and position-appropriate trainings on religious and national origin harassment for all students, district and school administrators, faculty, and staff; and continue to build upon the district's existing anti-bullying initiatives and the May 2013 resolution agreement.

For more information, please see this press release .

EOS Fact Sheet: AAPI MASSA

EOS Fact Sheet: AAPI MASSA (Punjabi)

The Department of Justice, through the Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, filed a statement of interest on July 7, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Doe v. Fulton County School District.  In this case, the plaintiff, a middle school girl with significant physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities, alleges that the Fulton County School District   subjected her to unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex.  Her claims of discrimination arise from an escalating series of sexual assaults and rape that she endured at the hands of other students while riding on a District special needs school bus, all with no intervention by the bus driver.  The plaintiff seeks damages under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as injunctive relief under the Georgia Open Records Act.  On June 15, 2020, the District filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing primarily that the knowledge of a bus driver categorically may not be attributed to the District for purposes of plaintiff’s discrimination claims.  In its statement of interest, the United States advises the court that determining whether a school district employee is an “appropriate person” under Title IX is fact-dependent and thus may not be based on the employee’s title alone.  The United States concludes that proper application of Title IX case law requires that plaintiff be permitted to demonstrate facts in support of her allegations and that the Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss should therefore be denied.

In November 2010, the Department of Justice received a complaint alleging that students in the school district were being harassed by other students because they didn't dress or act in ways that conform to gender stereotypes. Pursuant to Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Departments of Justice and Education conducted an extensive investigation into sex-based harassment in the district's middle and high schools. Many students reported that the unsafe and unwelcoming school climate inhibited their ability to learn.

Six student plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin School District in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota in July 2011. In August 2011, the Court asked the United States to join in the mediation of the lawsuit. On March 5, 2012. The United States, the six student plaintiffs, and the District filed a Consent Decree , which was entered by the Court on March 6, 2012. Also on March 5, 2012, the three parties filed a Joint Motion to Approve the Proposed Consent Decree and a Memorandum of Law in Support of the Joint Motion to Approve the Proposed Consent Decree , and the United States filed its Complaint-in-Intervention .

The Consent Decree requires the school district to retain an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district's policies and procedures concerning harassment; develop and implement a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools; enhance and improve its training of faculty, staff and students on sex-based harassment; hire or appoint a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district's sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX; retain an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment; provide for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district's ongoing anti-harassment efforts; improve its system for maintaining records of investigations and responding to allegations of harassment; conduct ongoing monitoring and evaluation of its anti-harassment efforts; and submit annual compliance reports to the departments during the five year life of the Consent Decree. For more information on the Consent Decree, please see this press release .

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice began investigating Colorado Springs' Falcon School District 49 in response to complaints that the District was not adequately responding to incidents of racial harassment and discrimination in its schools. On January 25, 2010, the parties executed a settlement agreement to resolve the United States' concerns. A modified settlement agreement designed to address the District's non-compliance with the parties' original settlement agreement was executed on October 14, 2014. The modified settlement agreement requires the District to adequately address incidents of racial harassment by keeping adequate records, analyzing those records, training teachers and students, and providing appropriate disciplinary responses. For more information on this settlement, please see this press release and agreement.

On November 12, 2020, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington entered into a Settlement Agreement with Federal Way Public Schools in Federal Way, Washington to resolve an investigation into allegations of peer-on-peer harassment on the basis of religion and national origin between 2014 and 2018, and that the District failed to properly communicate with parents and guardians who are not English language proficient. The Department initiated its investigation under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in response to complaints by parents alleging their children had been subjected to severe and pervasive religion- and national-origin-based harassment that went unaddressed by the District. The complaints alleged that other students repeatedly called Muslim students “terrorists,” pulled off their hijabs, and physically assaulted them, and told a Latina student to “Go back to Mexico,” threatened to kill her, and physically assaulted her. The Department also investigated complaints that the District failed to properly communicate with parents and guardians with English language barriers as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. Under the Agreement, the District will take proactive steps to improve its ability to prevent and appropriately respond to peer-on-peer harassment based on religion and national origin. Those steps include retaining consultants to provide technical assistance to support a review of the District’s harassment policies, practices, and procedures, as well as the District’s training on and implementation of protocols for such policies. The Agreement also requires the District to work with the consultants to assess its resources and build capacity at individual schools and at the District level to ensure that antiharassment policies are properly implemented. The District will also provide training for students and faculty, and will survey the educational environment and effectiveness of measures taken pursuant to the Agreement. Lastly, the District will ensure that it communicates essential school-related information in a language that parents and guardians with limited English proficiency understand so that their children can access the District’s educational programs. The Section will monitor compliance with this three-year agreement. For more information, please see this press release  and Extension Agreement .

Settlement Agreement: English | Español (Spanish) | العربية (Arabic) | Soomaali (Somali)    

On February 6, 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona approved a Unitary Status Plan ("USP") filed by the Department of Justice, together with private plaintiffs and the Tucson Unified School District. The USP is the latest step in this longstanding desegregation case, originally filed in 1974. The United States intervened in the case in 1976. In 2012, after extensive negotiations, the parties jointly submitted the USP, a four-year plan requiring the District to undertake a robust set of measures to desegregate its schools. The USP touches on nearly every aspect of school operations and lays a strong foundation for a high quality educational environment for all students. For more information, please see this press release .

On December 1, 2021, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with the Frederick County Public School District in Maryland to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities.  The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into complaints that the school district inappropriately secluded and restrained children enrolled in the district’s specialized programs for students with autism and emotional and behavioral disabilities.  Under the settlement agreement, the school district will take proactive steps to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities.  The district will, among other things: prohibit the use of seclusion; report all instances of restraint and evaluate whether they were justified; designate trained staff to collect and analyze restraint data and oversee the creation of appropriate behavior intervention plans; deliver appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement; design and implement procedures for handling complaints about restraint; offer counseling and compensatory education services to students with disabilities who were subjected to the district’s discriminatory practices; and hire an administrator to supervise school-based staff and ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA.  For more information, please see this letter , press release , and summary of the agreement .

In this matter involving the Ganado Unified School District in Arizona, the Section conducted a review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate services to English Language Learner (“ELL”)  students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. §1703(f).  On February 18, 2014, the Section and the district entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to resolve the district’s noncompliance with the EEOA.  The agreement requires the district to: improve language acquisition instruction to ELL students; conduct significant training for staff and teachers of ELL students; provide adequate materials to support their acquisition of English and academic content; monitor ELL students who opt out of ELL services and after they exit such services to ensure they are participating equally in instructional programs; and evaluate the effectiveness of the ELL program.  The training-related remedies require teachers to facilitate ELL students’ access to the grade-level core content curriculum by using appropriate instructional strategies and providing a culturally responsive learning environment.  For more information, please see this press release .

The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division - Educational Opportunities Section (DOJ) to initiate a compliance review of the Gallup-McKinley County School District (District). The purpose of the review was to determine whether the District discriminated against Native Americans by excluding them from college and career readiness programs and courses, such as Gifted and Talented (GATE), Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and honors courses. We also evaluated whether the District discriminated against Native American parents by failing to ensure meaningful access to the information surrounding the aforementioned programs and courses.

On June 16, 2017, the District entered into a Resolution Agreement to address OCR and the DOJ’s concerns. As part of the Agreement, the District agreed to (i) retain a consultant to examine and make recommendations to address the underrepresentation of Native American students in the college and career readiness programs and courses; (ii) improve outreach to the Native American community to ensure that Native American students and their parents are timely informed about the various college and career readiness programs and courses, including the application and admission processes and procedures; (iii) review and revise its practices and procedures for identifying and recommending students to college and career readiness programs and courses; (iv) provide mandatory training to teachers involved in the identification or referral of students to the college and career readiness programs and courses; (v) increase the number of college and career readiness programs and courses offered in its high schools; (vi) monitor the academic performance of students enrolled in the college and career readiness programs and courses, providing academic support where necessary; and (vii) provide language assistance, including translation services, for limited English proficient parents/guardians.

On January 4, 2001, the court approved a five-year consent decree negotiated by the parties to eliminate further the vestiges of segregation in the Tennessee system of public higher education. Under this consent decree, the State committed to creating new high-demand programs at TSU, particularly at the downtown campus (the former UT-N site), to appeal in particular to nontraditional students. Other efforts included revitalization of the downtown TSU campus, an increase in system-wide efforts to recruit black undergraduate students, and the creation and funding of a TSU endowment for educational excellence. In an order dated September 21, 2006, the court recognized the parties' efforts and achievements in the case in establishing a unitary system of public higher education in Tennessee, and approved the parties' joint motion for a final order of dismissal and terminated this longstanding litigation.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Education filed a statement of interest on June 29, 2015 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board.  In this case, the plaintiff, a transgender boy, alleges that the Gloucester County School Board unlawfully discriminated against him and denied him equal treatment and benefits based on his sex when it passed a policy that prohibited transgender students from using facilities matching their gender identity.  The plaintiff, represented by the A.C.L.U., asked the court for a Preliminary Injunction to permit him to use the boys’ restrooms the beginning of next school year.  In the statement of interest, the departments advised the court that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination against students because of their sex, including on the basis of a student's gender identity, transgender status, and nonconformity to sex stereotypes. The departments also stated that a sex-stereotyping claim can be based on an individual’s anatomical features, as well as behavior and appearance.  The departments concluded that the plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction had a likelihood of success on the merits under Title IX and that granting the relief would serve the public interest.

A sixth-grade student who practiced Islam wore her hijab, a religious head covering, for several weeks at the beginning of the 2003-04 school year in the Muskogee Public School District. On September 11, 2003, school officials told the sixth-grader that she could no longer wear her hijab because of the “no hats” policy in the school’s dress code. The dress code, however, had not been applied consistently, and the school district had allowed students to wear hats for medical, educational, and other secular purposes. When the sixth-grader refused to remove her hijab, she was suspended for eight days.

In October 2003, the student, through her father, sued the school district for alleged violations of her constitutional rights and Oklahoma law. The United States opened an investigation in November 2003, and then intervened in the lawsuit upon finding evidence to support a claim based on the denial of her rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On May 6, 2004, the United States filed a motion for summary judgment and an accompanying memorandum in support .

On May 20, 2004, the parties negotiated a consent order . Under the six-year consent order, the school district must: allow the plaintiff to wear her hijab; make similar religious accommodations for any other student in the school system who has a bona fide religious objection to the dress code; implement a training program for all teachers and administrators regarding the revised dress code; and publicize the revisions to students and parents. The district also must certify its compliance with the terms of the order to the United States for a four-year period. The private plaintiffs and the school district also negotiated a confidential damages settlement and the claim for expungement of her school records. For more on this settlement, please see the press release linked here.

In this matter involving the Horry County Schools, the Section examined whether South Carolina’s third-largest public school district was providing appropriate services to its rapidly growing population of English Learner (“EL”) students, as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”). On August 24, 2017, the Section and the district entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement outlining the steps that the district would take to resolve the issues identified by the United States and ensure compliance with Section 1703(f) of the EEOA. Among other things, the agreement required the district to: properly identify and place EL students when they enroll in school; provide adequate language services to all EL students, including those with disabilities, so that they can become proficient in English and access grade-level core content instruction; secure enough teachers certified in English as a Second Language to serve all EL students; adequately train the administrators and teachers who implement the EL program; monitor the academic performance of current and former EL students; and evaluate the effectiveness of the EL program over time. The agreement required the district to regularly report to the Section on the agreement’s implementation; the agreement was terminated December 2023.

In a long-standing desegregation case, the Huntsville City Schools proposed plans for construction to replace or expand several schools. Following negotiations, the United States agreed not to oppose the district's proposed motion for approval of school construction plan, which the district submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The court approved the plan on May 20, 2013. On April 21, 2015, the court issued an opinion setting forth its reasons for approving a consent order jointly filed by the United States and the Huntsville City Schools. The consent order revises attendance zones and strengthens magnet offerings across the school district; expands access to pre-K, gifted programs, advanced course offerings, academic after-school programs, and college counseling; and includes comprehensive remedies to address racial discrimination in student discipline, among other areas.

On August 28, 2023, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas entered into a Settlement Agreement with Highland Community College in Kansas to resolve an investigation into allegations it discriminated against Black students—primarily Black student-athletes—on the basis of race in the administration of its discipline, housing and campus security policies and procedures, and its response to complaints of racial discrimination. The investigation was conducted under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under the settlement, the college will strengthen its policies and procedures to ensure an effective response to  students’ complaints of racial discrimination and clarify campus security policies, procedures, and training to promote consistent, non-discriminatory interactions between security personnel and students. The college will, among other steps, train relevant staff on how to respond to and resolve allegations of discrimination; promote fair and equitable application of discipline policies and analyze discipline data to ensure non-discrimination; train campus security and other staff on effective de-escalation techniques and non-coercive methods of gathering information; survey and improve the climate and culture of the college’s main campus and cultivate safe, welcoming spaces for Black students; and ensure students’ equitable access to the college’s education programs and activities regardless of race. For more information, please see the cover letter to the agreement and press release .

On November 22, 2022, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with Illinois Central College in Peoria, Illinois, to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the College’s programs, and to address concerns related to the College’s process for investigating complaints of disability discrimination. The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on allegations that a student with a hearing disability was denied access to the College’s theatre program, and that the College failed to adequately investigate the student’s complaint. Under the settlement agreement, the College will update its investigation process to ensure that student complaints of disability discrimination are handled in a fair and timely manner. In addition, the College will train the managers and staff involved in investigations, as well as staff in the College’s theatre department, on the new complaint investigation procedures and the requirements of the ADA. Finally, the College will appoint an ADA Coordinator charged with overseeing implementation of the revised processes and compliance with Title II of the ADA.

In this matter involving the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Section conducted a review to determine whether ISBE was providing appropriate guidance and monitoring of school districts' services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). The Section determined that ISBE was violating the EEOA because its administrative rules and guidance did not ensure that districts serve ELL students beyond the three-year requirement under State law for transitional bilingual education (TBE) and transitional program of instruction (TPI) services. Although ISBE denied violating the EEOA, it agreed to revise its administrative rules and guidance to make clear that ELLs must receive services until they achieve English proficiency on the State's mandated test. The amended rules were approved by ISBE on June 24, 2010, were cleared by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules on July 13, 2010, and will take effect once filed with the Illinois Secretary of State. See press release . The amended rules require school districts that terminate TBE and TPI services at year three to submit to ISBE a plan explaining the ELL services to be provided beyond year three, the staff providing such services, and the resources available to implement those services. ISBE also agreed to monitor these plans to determine if they are sufficient and appropriately implemented. ISBE further agreed that it will issue guidance identifying educationally sound ELL services that could be provided in lieu of TBE and TPI services after year three. ISBE released this guidance in March 2011. Pursuant to the agreement between the Department and ISBE, ISBE will apply the amended rules and this guidance when monitoring districts' ELL programs.

Following negotiations, the parties agreed to a consent order , which the court approved on July 14, 2000. The order required the district to take steps to increase African-American student participation in its gifted program and its advanced classes. To decrease the number of African-American students in resource classes, the order also required the district to annually evaluate students in resource classes to determine if placement in a regular class would be more appropriate. The JISD provided three reports in conjunction with its requirements under the order, as well as supplemental reports requested by the Section. On October 16, 2001, the parties agreed to, and the court signed, an agreed order of dismissal , indicating that the JISD had achieved unitary states in all facets of its operations.

In September 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights began investigating the Jefferson Parish Public School System ("JPPSS") after the Departments received several complaints alleging violations of federal civil rights laws. Specifically, the complaints concerned JPPSS's policies and practices for student registration, enrollment, and graduation; JPPSS's policies and practices for communicating with national origin minority parents who have limited English proficiency; and JPPSS's response to alleged harassment of Latino students based on their national origin. After requesting and reviewing documents and information provided by JPPSS, the Departments visited Jefferson Parish and interviewed many administrators, faculty, and students in May 2013. At the conclusion of the Departments' visit, JPPSS voluntarily agreed to resolve the investigation by entering into an agreement that includes school-specific and parish-wide remedial measures to address the United States' concerns.

The agreement, signed by the parties on July 9, 2014, will ensure that all students who reside in Jefferson Parish can enroll in school regardless of their or their parents' national origin or immigration status. The agreement also requires JPPSS to review and revise its policies and practices for communicating with national origin essential parents who have limited English proficiency to make sure that parents receive important information in a language they can understand. Additionally, JPPSS will review and revise its policies and practices to ensure that all complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, including allegations of harassment, are appropriately investigated and resolved.

For more information, please see this press release and the full agreement available in English and Spanish.

Summary in: Spanish.

Summary in: Arabic.

Summary in: Vietnamese.

On January 14, 2010, in the Northern District of New York, the Section moved to intervene in J.L. v. Mohawk Central School District. The lawsuit was filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of J.L., a 15-year-old student in the District. J.L. alleged that the District violated state and federal laws including the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, both of which prohibit discrimination based on sex, including discrimination based on failure to conform to gender stereotypes. According to the United States' motion , J.L. failed to conform to gender stereotypes in both behavior and appearance. He exhibited feminine mannerisms, dyed his hair wore makeup and nail polish, and maintained predominantly female friendships. The alleged severe and pervasive student-on-student harassment based on sex escalated from derogatory name-calling to physical threats and violence. The United States further alleged that the District had knowledge of the harassment, but was deliberately indifferent in its failure to take timely, corrective action, and that the deliberate indifference restricted J.L.'s ability to fully enjoy the educational opportunities of his school. The District denied all allegations. Prior to the court ruling on the United States' intervention motion, an out-of-court settlement was reached among J.L., the District, and the United States. The court approved the settlement agreement on March 29, 2010. The agreement requires the District to (1) retain an expert consultant in the area of harassment and discrimination based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation to review the District's policies and procedures; (2) develop and implement a comprehensive plan for disseminating the District's harassment and discrimination policies and procedures; (3) retain an expert consultant to conduct annual training for faculty and staff, and students as deemed appropriate by the expert, on discrimination and harassment based on sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation; (4) maintain records of investigations and responses to allegations of harassment for five years; and (5) provide annual compliance reports to the United States and private plaintiffs. Lastly, $50,000.00 will be paid to J.L. and $25,000.00 in attorneys' fees will be paid to the New York Civil Liberties Foundation.

On May 5, 2006, Junior Does filed a complaint against the Allentown School District alleging that, as six- and seven-year-old students, they were sexually assaulted by another student in the bathrooms at Central Elementary School during the 2003-2004 school year. On April 21, 2009, Junior Does amended their complaint to include a sex discrimination claim pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, and on July 10, 2009, the Division intervened. On August 3, 2011, Junior Does again amended their complaint to include allegations that a fifth student was sexually assaulted, adding another minor plaintiff as a party.

In the case, the Division alleged the following: that sexual assaults occurred on at least five separate occasions; that the district was made aware of each incident immediately after it occurred; and that despite this notice, the district did not take appropriate action, and in some circumstances took no action, to prevent the harassment from recurring. Furthermore, the department alleged that both before and after the sexual harassment of the students, the district failed to adopt and implement adequate and effective sexual harassment policies and procedure as required by federal law; had the district adopted and implemented such policies and procedures, the district would have prevented the continued sexual assault of students.

After extensive discovery, the Division and the school district negotiated a consent decree . The court approved the proposed consent decree on July 31, 2012. The consent decree provides for substantial systemic relief and requires the school district to take the following steps: develop and implement a comprehensive plan for addressing and preventing sexual harassment in all district schools; retain an expert consultant in the area of student-on-student harassment to draft and implement a sexual harassment policy and procedures; provide training to administrators, faculty, staff, students and parents on sex-based harassment; select qualified district and school-based equity coordinators to ensure proper implementation of the district's harassment policies and procedures and compliance with Title IX, including prompt investigation, resolution and reporting of sexual harassment complaints and allegations; create procedures for identifying, monitoring, and supervising students with a confirmed history of sexual harassment toward other students; develop and implement policies and procedures for communicating with outside agencies, such as police, hospital and child protection agencies, of allegations of sexual harassment in the district; and submit annual compliance reports to the Division.

On July 1, 2016, the Section and the United State Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas filed two statements of interest to assist the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas with evaluating the Title IX sexual assault claims in T.F. v. Kansas State University and S.W. v. Kansas State University . In these cases, the plaintiffs, both students of Kansas State University (K-State), allege that K-State discriminated against them on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX when K-State allegedly refused to respond to or investigate their reports of sexual assault by K-State students during parties hosted at and by fraternities recognized and supported by K-State. In the statements of interest responding to K-State’s motions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ Title IX claims, the United States advised the court that Title IX imposes an obligation on federally-funded schools to respond to reports of rape that occurred at off-campus school-recognized fraternity houses and events and to determine if a hostile educational environment exists in such school-recognized activities or other education programs or activities. The United States further argued that under the proper Title IX standards, Plaintiffs’ Title IX claims for damages and equitable relief should be allowed to proceed. On March 14, 2017, after considering the parties pleadings and the United States’ statements of interest, the court denied K-State’s motions to dismiss the plaintiffs’ Title IX claims, holding that both plaintiffs had alleged the elements required to state a plausible Title IX harassment claim. Specifically, the court held that the plaintiffs plausibly alleged that K-State had substantial control over the alleged assailants and the context of the assaults, which were so severe as to deny plaintiffs access to educational benefits and opportunities, and that K-State’s alleged deliberate indifference to the plaintiffs’ reports of rape made them “liable or vulnerable” to further harassment or assault.

Memorandum and Order - T.F. v. K-State       

Memorandum and Order - S.W. v. K-State

In this case, formerly known as Lau v. Nichols, the United States Supreme Court held that the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d, and its implementing regulations by failing to provide special programs designed to rectify the English language deficiencies of students who do not speak or understand English, or are of limited English-speaking ability, and by failing to provide these students with equal access to the instructional program. Lau v. Nichols, 414 U.S. 563 (1974). The Supreme Court remanded the case for the fashioning of appropriate relief. On October 22, 1976, the parties entered into a Consent Decree that incorporated a Master Plan that requires bilingual-bicultural education for the English Language Learner (ELL) students who speak Chinese, Filipino, and Spanish. Chinese and Spanish bilingual programs continue subsequent to the passage of California's Proposition 227. The Consent Decree also requires the provision of other special programs and English as a Second Language (ESL) for ELL students of other language groups, as well as the provision of bilingual instruction, whenever feasible. The Consent Decree calls for annual reporting to the Court by the SFUSD regarding its ELL programs and the establishment of a Bilingual Community Council (BCC) to assist the SFUSD in filing these annual reports.

On August 24, 2006, the Court issued an order requiring the parties to show cause why the Court should not relieve the SFUSD of responsibility for reporting under the extant Consent Decree. The United States filed a response to the show cause order that identified problems with the ELL programs and recommended continued reporting by the SFUSD, additional on-site visits of the ELL programs, and the development of an updated Master Plan for ELL programs. The SFUSD and the private plaintiffs filed responses agreeing to this approach for going forward. The Court continued the reporting obligations and assigned the case to an active judge. On May 1, 2007, the new judge held a status conference in which he agreed to let the parties continue their school visits and work collaboratively on developing an updated Master Plan. The United States' consultant and members of the BCC completed visits to twenty-four schools on May 18, 2007. The parties agreed to a new Master Plan that would replace the outdated plan and filed a stipulated application to modify the 1976 Consent Decree. On September 11, 2008, the Court approved the new Master Plan and entered an order modifying the 1976 Consent Decree.

The United States and the Private Plaintiffs then monitored SFUSD's implementation of the 2008 Master Plan through the District's annual reports, regular site visits, community meetings, and communications with parents and students. To resolve the United States' and Private Plaintiff's consistent concerns about SFUSD's compliance, the parties negotiated a Modified Consent Decree (MCD) . On June 24, 2015, the parties jointly filed a motion and supporting memo seeking court approval of the MCD. The MCD, approved by the court on June 29, 2015, requires SFUSD to, among other things: promptly identify, assess, and place EL students in effective EL programs; offer a range of EL programs and services to meet the needs of all EL students, including newcomers, students with disabilities, and long-term EL students; expand translation and interpretation services for LEP families; adequately train employees who serve EL students so that they can fulfill their roles; and conduct robust monitoring. The MCD also protects the educational rights of the district's most at-risk and vulnerable EL students who are learning in alternative education or juvenile justice settings. If SFUSD implements the MCD fully and in good faith, the MCD and this historic case are expected to end in the fall of 2018. For more information about the MCD, please see the June 24, 2015 press release . Translated copies of the MCD are linked here in Chinese , Spanish , Vietnamese , Filipino , and Arabic .

This statewide settlement resolved issues relating to the overrepresentation of black students in the mental retardation and emotional disturbance special education classifications and the underrepresentation of black students in the specific learning disabilities and gifted and talented special education classifications. This consent decree , approved by the court on August 30, 2000, involves special education issues that were raised as a result of information gathered during unitary status reviews in eleven desegregation cases pending before the United States District Court in the Middle District of Alabama. Parties to the decree include the United States, private plaintiffs, and the Alabama State Department of Education.

The settlement required the State of Alabama to undertake initiatives in providing teacher training, to establish a program to improve reading achievement, and to make changes to Alabama administrative law in the areas of pre-referral, referral, evaluation procedures, and eligibility criteria. This emphasis on pre-referral intervention services resulted in substantial changes over the six years of implementing the consent decree. There have been significant reductions in racial disparities in the special education classifications of mental retardation (MR), and disparities have been virtually eliminated in the classifications of emotional disturbance (ED) and specific learning disabilities (SLD). There also has been an overall decrease in the number of students classified as MR or ED, and increases in students classified as SLD. The number of black students classified as gifted also has increased.

The settlement also required reevaluation of certain categories of minority students who had been identified as MR. As a result, several hundred students who had been inappropriately placed as MR were exited from special education. These students were provided with appropriate supplemental services to help transition successfully into the general education program, and were carefully monitored during this process.

On February 12, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama approved a consent order filed by the Justice Department, together with private plaintiffs and the Calhoun County, Alabama School District, in this longstanding desegregation case. The order found that the district has met its desegregation obligations in certain areas and providing for additional, comprehensive relief in the areas of faculty and staff hiring and recruitment and student discipline and school climate.

In approving the consent order, the district court declared that the 9,200-student school district has eliminated the vestiges of prior segregation in the areas of student assignment, extracurricular activities, school facilities, and transportation, thereby ending the court's supervision in those areas. The order requires the district to take additional steps to reach full compliance, including adopting measures to promote racial diversity in its faculty and staff, expanding its use of positive behavioral supports and interventions throughout its schools, and revising its student discipline policies and procedures to ensure they are fair, non-discriminatory, and limit the use of exclusionary discipline such as suspensions and expulsions.

In this school desegregation case, the parties entered into a consent decree , which provided for the closure of two K-12 schools and the consolidation of the students into two central school zones. One of the K-12 schools to be closed had a virtually all-white student body and had never graduated a black student. The day after the decree was filed, the school board voted to rescind its consent. The Section filed a motion to enforce the consent decree , arguing that once the board had given its consent, granted authority to counsel to sign on its behalf, and jointly filed the consent decree, the board was bound by the terms of the consent decree.

At the same time, two groups moved to intervene in the case for the purpose of opposing the consent decree. The groups comprised parents, students, and other citizens from each of the two schools scheduled for closure. The Section filed briefs opposing both motions for intervention – one against the Mellow Valley School intervenors and one against the Bibb Graves School intervenors – arguing that the proposed intervenors did not express a cognizable interest in furthering desegregation, and, even if they had, the United States and private plaintiffs adequately represented any such interest.

On May 13, 2003, the district court accepted all of the Section's arguments and entered an order (1) denying the Board's motion to rescind its consent, (2) denying both motions to intervene, and (3) enforcing the consent decree. The parties worked to implement the consent decree, and the two schools were successfully closed prior to the beginning of the 2003-04 school year. The two groups of unsuccessful intervenors appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

In this matter involving the Lewiston, Maine school district, the United States reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs)–particularly among the district’s large population of Somalian refugees–as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). On June 4, 2007, the school district and the United States entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district will take to ensure its compliance with the EEOA. The agreement requires the district to develop, among other things: standardized curricula for ELLs; adequate teacher training and collaborative opportunities; systematic monitoring and reporting on the academic progress of ELLs; and a comprehensive ELL program evaluation model.

The Section investigated complaints about whether (i) the Lewiston Public School District’s shortening school days for students with disabilities by placing them on an “abbreviated” school day schedule violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and (ii) the District’s English Learner (EL) programs and practices complied with Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). The investigation found that the District routinely shortened school days for students with disabilities because of behavior related to their disabilities without considering their individual needs or testing alternative interventions or supports to keep students in school for the full day.  The investigation further revealed that the District failed to provide EL students with the instruction and support needed to become proficient in English and participate equally in school.  On May 27, 2021, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to resolve the compliance issues identified by the United States, including: ensuring students with disabilities receive supports they need to remain in school for the full day; developing policies and procedures for non-discriminatory abbreviated school day placements; and ensuring that all special education personnel, school counselors, and school psychologists receive training on appropriately responding to disability-related behaviors. The agreement also requires the District to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction to all of its EL students and targeted programming for those ELs with limited or interrupted formal education; fully staff its EL programs with ESL-certified teachers; provide training to principals and teachers; communicate effectively with Limited English Proficient parents about school activities; and monitor the EL program over time to evaluate its efficacy.  The agreement will remain in place for three school years.  For more information, please see this press release in  English , Somali , Swahili , French , Spanish , and Portuguese . Translated versions of the agreement are also available in Somali , Swahili , French , Spanish , and Portuguese .

This historic desegregation involving the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) began in 1972.  The Section continues to monitor the SPLS’s compliance with a 1999 Agreement that set forth requirements to ameliorate the effects of segregation through voluntary interdistrict transfers, remedial programs, school improvement and accountability, and the provision of funds from the state to the SLPS.  This Agreement has been consensually modified by new orders and agreements in recent years, including a 2011 agreement that allowed for the use of desegregation funds for specific programs, such as magnet school transportation, principal leadership training, early childhood, and enhanced computing and technology in the SLPS.  Section 10 of the 1999 Agreement set aside funds for “construction and site acquisition costs to accommodate any reasonable anticipated net enrollment increase caused by any  reduction or elimination of the voluntary transfer plan.” 1999 Agreement, Section 10, at 12 .  While the parties anticipated in 1999 that the voluntary transfer program would continue for a number of years, Section 10 was designed to provide for SLPS’ capital needs if the transfer program ended and numerous students returned at one time to the SLPS.  Over the years, however, the assumptions underlying creation of the Section 10 fund did not come to pass, primarily as a result of population declines, the advent of charter schools, and the ongoing commitment by both city and county schools to the voluntary transfer program. Accordingly, in 2013, the court approved the parties’ agreement to allow the use of certain remedial funds set aside in the desegregation account to provide continued funding for the St. Louis Community Monitoring and Support Task Force.

On July 30, 2007, Kimberly Lopez filed a complaint against the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”) alleging her son was sexually assaulted by another student while riding a special education school bus operated by Metro. On April 30, 2008, Plaintiff amended her complaint to add a sex discrimination claim against Metro pursuant to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681. Recognizing the United States’ substantial interest in ensuring recipients of federal funds do not discriminate on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX, the Court issued an order granting the United States Motion to Intervene and permitting the United States to file its complaint in intervention. In January 2009, the United States moved for summary judgment , and subsequently opposed Metro’s cross-motion for summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ Title IX claim and submitted a reply brief in support of its own motion. On July 7, 2009, the Court issued a memorandum opinion denying the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment but adopting the Section’s interpretation of Title IX in numerous key respects. On February 8, 2010, the parties entered into a consent decree that obligates the Nashville Public School District to take substantial steps to enhance the security of students with disabilities on its public school transportation system. These steps include staffing bus monitors to assist drivers on all special education buses; implementing comprehensive screening procedures to ensure that students with disabilities are not assigned to buses where they would be at risk of harassment; expediting the investigation of suspected acts of sexual harassment involving students with disabilities; and ensuring open lines of communication between transportation officials and school-based personnel. Metro also agreed to pay Plaintiff $1.475 million as part of the settlement.

The Section intervened in this same-sex peer harassment case alleging the school district violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to respond appropriately to harassment of a student on the basis of sex. Specifically, the Section alleged in our complaint-in-intervention : from the eighth grade through the eleventh grade, Jeremy Lovins was subjected to harassment on the basis of sex (ostensibly because other students believed he was gay); Jeremy and his parents repeatedly informed school officials of the harassment but the harassment continued; and Jeremy was eventually subjected to an assault and forced to leave school because of the harassment. On July 31, 2000, the Court entered a consent decree settling the case

The consent decree included monetary relief for Mr. Lovins in the amount of $72,500 and injunctive relief. Under the consent decree, the school district agreed, among other things: to conduct a climate assessment of student-to-student and teacher-to-student relations within its schools; to develop a comprehensive plan to identify, prevent, and remedy harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation; to educate and train teachers, staff, and students about the operation of the policy and procedures; to maintain written records of complaints and investigations; and to file implementation reports with the Section and the court.

The two plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that the Sullivan County Board of Education (SCBE) violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by failing to appropriately address known student-on-student harassment on the basis of race. Specifically, plaintiffs' amended complaint alleges that both Michael and Marquita Madison, who are black, were subjected to ongoing racial harassment while attending Sullivan East High School (East). This harassment included a constant barrage of racial slurs, some made within earshot of teachers, racially derogatory graffiti on walls and desks, and racially offensive paraphernalia. Though school officials knew or should have known of the harassment, they failed to take appropriate steps to address it. Marquita eventually transferred to another school after her sophomore year. Michael fell victim to a racially-motivated assault outside the school cafeteria his junior year. He did not return to East after the assault and finished high school on homebound studies.

The Section filed its complaint-in-intervention , motion to intervene , and supporting memorandum in November 2000. In our complaint-in-intervention, we sought monetary relief for the plaintiffs and injunctive relief, such as policies and procedures to prevent or address such harassment in the future. The court granted the Section's intervention on November 28, 2000. The parties conducted discovery in 2001 and early 2002. Following discovery, the parties negotiated a consent order and monetary settlement of the Title VI and equal protection claims. Under the consent order , which was approved by the Court on October 16, 2002, the school system agreed to retain an expert to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent, identify, and remedy harassment and discrimination; provide an education and training program for teachers, staff, and students about the school district's policies prohibiting harassment and discrimination; and maintain written records of each harassment allegation received, investigation conducted and corrective action taken by the district to ensure a consistent and effective review of allegations. For more details about the settlement, please see the press release linked here .

On June 12, 2023, the Section entered into a  settlement agreement  with the Madison County School District to address complaints of race-based harassment in its schools. The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, based on allegations that the school district denied students equal protection of the laws based on their race. Under the settlement agreement, the school district will undertake significant institutional reforms. The district will, among other steps: revise its anti-discrimination policies and procedures; create three new central office positions to oversee effective handling of complaints of race discrimination; update its racial harassment and discipline policies to more accurately track and consistently respond to complaints of race-based harassment; train staff on how to identify, investigate, and respond to complaints of racial harassment and discriminatory discipline practices; inform students and parents of how to report harassment and discrimination; update its centralized, electronic reporting system to track and manage complaints and the district’s response to complaints; implement focus groups, conduct surveys, training and educational events on identifying and preventing race discrimination, including discriminatory harassment; and analyze and review its discipline data and amend its policies to ensure non-discriminatory enforcement of discipline policies. For more information, please see this  letter  to the District and  press release .

In this matter involving the Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School of Excellence (“the School”), the Section and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts examined whether the School was adequately serving its English Learner (EL) students, including EL students with disabilities, as required by Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”).  On March 10, 2020, the School and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to address the issues identified by the United States and ensure the School’s compliance with Section 1703(f) of the EEOA.  Among other things, the agreement requires the School to: provide all EL students – who make up nearly a quarter of the School’s population – with an adequate amount of daily English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction taught by an ESL-certified teacher; actively recruit qualified, certified staff for ESL, core content area, and special education teaching positions; ensure all ELs with disabilities receive both ESL and special education services unless their parents/guardians voluntarily and knowingly waive one or both services; train special education and ESL-certified teachers who work with EL students with disabilities on how to provide services to ELs with disabilities; communicate with Limited English Proficient parents about essential school information in a language they understand; and properly monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its EL program over time.  The parties anticipate that the agreement will remain in place through the end of the 2021-22 school year. 

Private plaintiffs filed this school desegregation case in 1965; the United States intervened later that year. On July 31, 1969, the Court approved the District's 1969-70 Revised Desegregation Plan, which was subsequently modified with the court's approval in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, and 1978. In 2007, the United States initiated a review of the District's compliance with the court's desegregation orders and applicable federal law. This review resulted in the filing of negotiated consent order, which was approved by the court on February 5, 2009. On July 27, 2012, the parties filed another motion for approval of a negotiated consent order, which was granted on August 21, 2012. On July 3, 2013, the parties filed another motion for approval of a negotiated consent order, which was granted on July 12, 2013 . The consent order requires the district to close four of its seven elementary schools, including three racially identifiable schools; construct a new school; modify its attendance zones; and implement a controlled choice program at two of its elementary schools. The consent order also will require the district to continue certain intra-district transfers that have the effect of furthering the desegregation of the district's schools. On March 5, 2014, the court approved amendments to the July 12, 2013 consent order, which extended the timeline for implementing the elementary desegregation plan and established monitoring and reporting requirements sought by the United States.  On October 11, 2023, the court declared the district had met its desegregation obligations in several areas of operations, including staff assignment, facilities, transportation and extracurricular activities, and approved a negotiated consent decree that requires the district to take measures to desegregate its gifted program and advanced and dual enrollment courses.  The consent order also requires the district to implement changes to its student discipline policies designed to reduce racial disparities in discipline and eliminate the use of corporal punishment.

In this matter involving the Mercer County School District in West Virginia, the Section conducted a review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 ("EEOA"). After determining that the school district was not complying with Section 1703(f) of the EEOA, the United States entered into a settlement agreement with the school district on January 31, 2012. This agreement addressed, among other things, the school district's obligations to: timely identify and assess all students with a primary or home language other than English; serve ELLs with appropriate instruction; provide adequate teacher training; and carefully monitor the academic progress of current and former ELLs.

On September 26, 2016, the Division filed a Statement of Interest to assist the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in evaluating the plaintiffs’ claims under Title VI, its implementing regulations, and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (EEOA) in Methelus v. School Board of Collier County .  The plaintiffs filed on behalf of their newly-arrived, foreign-born English Language Learner (ELL) children ages 15-17, arguing that the Collier County School Board (Board) has violated the EEOA and Title VI by refusing to enroll these children in its regular high schools and diverting some to enroll in Adult English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs that charge a fee and do not earn credit toward a high school diploma.  Among other claims, the plaintiffs alleged that the Board’s practices did not constitute “appropriate action to overcome language barriers” under Section 1703(f) of the EEOA and intentionally discriminated against these foreign-born, ELL children on the basis for their national origin in violation of Title VI.  The Board moved to dismiss all of plaintiffs’ claims in their Amended Complaint.  The United States’ Statement of Interest , filed in response to the motion to dismiss, sets forth the legal standards applicable to the claim under Section 1703(f) of the EEOA, including the Castaneda v. Pickard standards binding on the Florida federal court. The filing explains why under those standards the plaintiffs adequately pled facts supporting a plausible Section 1703(f) claim.  The filing also sets forth the well-established Arlington Heights factors for evaluating intentional discrimination claims under Title VI, explaining how the plaintiffs’ factual allegations addressed many of these factors and sufficed to state a plausible Title VI claim.

On April 24, 2013, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with the Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township, Indiana to prevent and respond to peer-on-peer harassment in schools. The agreement resolved the Section's review of the district's policies and practices related to harassment and bullying, which was initiated in June 2011 after reports of possible racial harassment at a district school. The agreement requires the district to take a number of steps to prevent and address harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion and disability, and to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment for all students. These steps include forming a district-wide anti-harassment task force to review and revise the district's policies and procedures related to harassment, bullying, and discipline; establishing a cohesive process for receiving, investigating and monitoring complaints of harassment and bullying, enabling the district to track repeated incidents involving individual students or groups targeted for their membership in a protected class; and providing training, professional development and school climate assessments for both students and staff at two of the district's schools. For more information, please see this press release .

On November 18, 1963, private plaintiffs filed this case complaining that the Gadsden City Board of Education was maintaining a segregated school system. On May 9, 1966, the Section intervened and joined the plaintiffs in seeking injunctive relief that would bring the school system into conformity with federal constitutional and statutory provisions.

Over the years, the court issued a series of orders aimed at eliminating the vestiges of past discrimination and completely desegregating the school system. In July 2003, the court approved the parties' proposed consent order that required the school district to take remedial actions in the areas of student assignment, personnel assignment, facilities, and quality of education. The consent order required the district to assign students randomly to classrooms and to enforce attendance zone lines strictly. With respect to personnel assignment, the consent order required the district to increase efforts to recruit minority teachers and to ensure that each school had a faculty whose racial diversity was reflective of the district-wide faculty. The consent order also required the district to make substantial improvements to its secondary schools so that these facilities were all of comparable quality. Finally, with respect to quality of education, the consent order required the district to equalize its offering of and access to advanced and honor classes among secondary schools. Having fulfilled these obligations, the district was declared unitary on August 26, 2005.

In this long-standing school desegregation case, the Jackson-Madison County School Board filed a motion for unitary status in December 1999, asserting that it had complied in good faith with prior desegregation decrees and had eliminated the vestiges of segregation to the extent practicable. The Section and the private plaintiffs opposed the board's motion for unitary status. The parties engaged in extensive negotiations, which resulted in an agreement shortly before trial in November 2000.

The agreement, which the court approved in December 2000, permits the board to proceed with its plan to construct five new schools and implement revised student attendance zones over the next four years. The agreement includes numerous measures that will further desegregation by voluntary means, including the construction of magnet schools and the introduction of other school choice options. The board is also required to take additional remedial action in faculty and staff assignments, and to encourage minority student participation in all programs and activities. Implementation and monitoring of the agreement is ongoing

Parents of students with disabilities who allege that their children were not properly identified, evaluated, and provided with special education services filed a class action lawsuit against the Newark Public Schools, the State of New Jersey, and several state officials. The lawsuit alleges that Newark does not have adequate systems in place to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and that New Jersey has violated its obligation to supervise local implementation of IDEA requirements.

In its motion to dismiss, New Jersey raised a constitutional challenge to the IDEA, claiming that the Eleventh Amendment afforded it immunity against a private lawsuit to enforce the IDEA. The Section sought and was granted intervention to defend the constitutionality of the IDEA. In its brief , the Section argued that New Jersey had agreed to comply with the IDEA and waive its sovereign immunity when it accepted federal IDEA funds to defray the cost of educating students with disabilities. In the alternative, the Section argued that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court accepted both arguments and denied the State's motion to dismiss. The defendants appealed the denials of their motions to dismiss, and the Appellate Section defended the IDEA's constitutionality on appeal. On September 16, 2003, the Third Circuit issued an opinion affirming the district court's holding that the State of New Jersey had waived its sovereign immunity.

In this matter involving the Nashua School District (“the District”) in New Hampshire, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire investigated whether the District’s English Learner (EL) programs and practices complied with Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.  The investigation revealed that the District failed to provide EL students with the instruction and support they need to become proficient in English and participate equally in school.  On May 24, 2021, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to resolve the District’s compliance issues identified by the United States.  The agreement requires the District to provide English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction to all of its EL students, fully staff its EL programs with ESL-certified teachers, provide training to principals and core academic teachers of EL students, communicate effectively with Limited English Proficient parents about school activities, and monitor the EL program over time to evaluate its efficacy.  The agreement will remain in place for three school years. For more information, please see this press release in English , Spanish , and Portuguese .

Settlement Agreement: Español (Spanish) | Português (Portuguese)      

The United States initiated this litigation against the Nettleton Line Consolidated School District on September 8, 1969, and the court subsequently approved consent decrees requiring the District to desegregate on December 8, 1969 and June 19, 1970 .  On August 8, 2011 , following negotiations between the United States and the District, the court issued a consent order requiring the District to revise its policies and procedures and to terminate its race-based selection and election procedures for extracurricular activities (e.g., elections for class officers, homecoming court, and class superlatives).  After the United States completed a review of the District’s operations and compliance with the Court’s orders, on September 2, 2020 the court approved an additional consent order .  The 2020 Consent Order granted partial unitary status and found that the District had eliminated the vestiges of de jure segregation in the areas of student assignment, staff, extracurricular activities, and facilities.  The 2020 Consent Order also required the District to complete more work to demonstrate that it has eliminated the vestiges of de jure segregation in the areas of faculty and transportation.  Therefore, the 2020 Consent Order requires the District to take steps to (i) increase its recruitment of black applicants for teacher vacancies; (ii) conduct its hiring with the goal of eliminating any real or perceived racial barriers in hiring; (iii) retain qualified, black faculty members who are employed by the District; (iv) eliminate overlapping or duplicative bus routes; and (v) eliminate or reduce the number of racially identifiable bus routes or at least mitigate the disparities between the percentages of black and white students assigned to each racially identifiable bus.  The District may file a motion with the court for full or partial dismissal of the case after three full school years of compliance with the relevant provisions of the 2020 Consent Order .

In this matter involving the Newark Public Schools (“the District”), the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey examined whether the District’s English Learner (“EL”) programs and practices complied with Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”).  The United States initiated its investigation in response to a complaint alleging that the District was failing to appropriately communicate with parents who have limited proficiency in English (“LEP parents”).  In addition to corroborating the District’s LEP parent communications failures, the United States found  that the District failed to hire and retain enough qualified teachers to support its program, resulting in limited instruction time for some students, and for others, no language services at all.  On September 1, 2021, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to address the noncompliant conditions identified by the United States and ensure the District’s compliance with Section 1703(f) of the EEOA.  Among other things, the agreement requires the District to: identify and place EL students appropriately when they enroll in school; provide adequate language services to all EL students, including those with disabilities, so that they can become proficient in English; and locate and re-offer services to EL students who were exited improperly from the District’s programs without achieving English proficiency.  The agreement also requires the District to ensure that English as a Second Language (“ESL”) classes and bilingual classes are taught by ESL-certified and bilingual-endorsed teachers; adequately train the administrators and teachers who implement the District’s EL programs; ensure meaningful communication with LEP parents about District and school programs and activities; and evaluate the effectiveness of the EL programs over time.  The parties anticipate that the agreement will remain in place for at least three school years until the District has fully complied with its obligations. Translations of the Agreement are available in Spanish , French , Haitian Creole , and Portuguese . For more information, please see press releases available in English , Spanish , Portuguese , Haitian Creole , and French .

On September 15, 2022, the United States entered into a settlement agreement with the district to resolve the Section’s investigation of the district’s English Learner (EL) programs and practices under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA).  The Section opened the investigation in 2020, after the U.S. Department of Justice received a complaint alleging that the district violated the EEOA by failing to communicate effectively with K’iche’-speaking Limited English Proficient parents and denying K’iche’-speaking EL students equal educational opportunities.

Through its investigation, the Section identified that the district: (1) failed to communicate adequately with Limited English Proficient parents, including K’iche’ speakers, about school-related programs and activities; (2) did not adequately train its faculty on providing appropriate services to its EL students, including training to address the specific needs of K’iche’ speakers to overcome language barriers; and (3) did not adequately evaluate its EL programs for effectiveness, including assessing the performance of K’iche’-speaking EL students to determine if they are overcoming language barriers.

The agreement requires, among other things, that the district implement effective measures to correctly identify the languages spoken by students and parents/guardians, so that school staff do not assume K’iche’ speakers are native Spanish speakers based on their country of origin.  The district also agreed to improve its practices and professional development to address the specific needs of EL students who speak K’iche’ so that they can access the same educational opportunities as other students in the district.  For more information on this settlement, please see this press release  (in Spanish , Portuguese , and Cape Verdean Creole ).

On September 28, 2012, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division entered into a settlement agreement with the Northeastern Local School District (NELSD) in Springfield, Ohio, to resolve allegations of racial harassment of African-American students in the district.

In December 2011, the Section received a complaint alleging incidents of racial harassment, including race-based death threats, directed at an African-American student enrolled at Kenton Ridge High School in NELSD. The Section's investigation of the complaint revealed that the student had been subjected to significant harassment based on race and retaliation for reporting the harassment of which the District knew or should have known. In violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the District failed to investigate the alleged harassment and retaliation adequately, address it effectively, and prevent it from recurring. Because of the severe, pervasive, and persistent harassment and retaliation, the student was afraid to go to school and eventually left the district out of fear for her own safety. The investigation also revealed that other African-American students in the district had experienced racial harassment and retaliation for reporting racial harassment.

Under the terms of the agreement, the district agreed to take a variety of steps to prevent racial harassment at all of its schools, to respond appropriately to harassment that occurs, and to eliminate the hostile environment resulting from harassment. These steps include revising policies and procedures for handling racial harassment complaints; conducting trainings for faculty, staff, students, and parents; and reporting data to the Department of Justice for three years. For more information, please see this press release .

On December 31, 2020 the Section entered into a settlement agreement  with the North Gibson School Corporation in Princeton, Indiana to address and prevent the discriminatory secluding and restraining of students with disabilities. The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into a complaint that the school district inappropriately secluded and restrained students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in the district’s self-contained classrooms. Under the settlement agreement, the school district will, among other things: change its policies to prohibit use of seclusion rooms; report all instances of restraint and review whether they were justified; take steps to avoid placing students with emotional and behavioral disabilities on an abbreviated school day or homebound instruction and document those steps; create and implement a procedure for handling complaints of disability discrimination; provide appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement; and appoint an Intervention Coordinator to ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA. For more information, please see this press release .

In this matter involving the North Plainfield, New Jersey school district, the Section reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs), as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). Based on its review of the district, the Section raised concerns about, among other things: the school district's procedures for screening new students to determine whether they are ELLs; the opportunities that ELLs have to integrate with native speakers of English in a school setting; the extent to which the district's school libraries and media centers are accessible to ELLs; and the academic support provided by the district to ELLs who enroll in general education classes.  The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, and on September 3, 2004, entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district was required to take to ensure its compliance with the EEOA. The district compiled in good faith with the settlement agreement that ended on September 3, 2007.

On December 20, 2022, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with the Okaloosa County School District in Fort Walton Beach, Florida to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities and the district’s responses to allegations of physical and verbal abuse. The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) based on allegations that the school district engaged in improper seclusion and restraint practices and failed to appropriately respond to known physical and verbal abuse of students. Under the settlement agreement, the school district will take proactive steps to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students with disabilities. The district will, among other steps: continue to prohibit the use of seclusion; limit its use of restraint; clarify and improve crisis response team procedures and post-restraint procedures; report all instances of restraint and evaluate if they were justified and complied with district policy; reform district complaint procedures and improve internal district investigations into allegations of employee abuse or improper use of restraint or seclusion; develop and deliver appropriate trainings for personnel who restrain students and personnel who review restraint reports; and deliver appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement. For more information, please see this letter and press release .

In this matter involving Old Dominion University (ODU) in Norfolk, Virginia, the Section conducted an investigation under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq. and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The Section received a complaint alleging that ODU discriminated and retaliated against a graduate student based on her disability and her related request for acknowledgement of her right to reasonable modifications of policy.  The Section found that, in a series of retaliatory acts, ODU terminated the student’s relationship with her professor-advisor and his research lab, withdrew her from a professional conference where she was scheduled to present, and forced her to change her graduate course of study.  On February 3, 2021, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with ODU to ensure that the University provides reasonable modifications of policy for students with disabilities.  The agreement requires that ODU develop and disseminate a retaliation policy; train staff and faculty on the requirements of the ADA and Section 504; and provide compliance reports to DOJ.  In addition, under the agreement ODU will pay the complainant $40,000 in compensatory damages. For more information, please see this press release .

This religious discrimination case arose after the principal of an elementary school in New Jersey prohibited an eight-year-old girl from singing a Christian song in a voluntary after-school talent show. On May 20, 2005, the student’s parents filed suit in federal district court, alleging that the school violated her constitutional rights by censoring her speech. The school defended the censorship by asserting that (1) the song had an overtly religious and proselytizing message and (2) permitting the song would have violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

On June 19, 2006, the Section filed an amicus brief in support of the student’s motion for summary judgment, arguing that the school engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by censoring her performance based solely on the religious perspective of her song. The brief also contended that the school’s Establishment Clause justification was unavailing because the song clearly represented the student’s expression, not the school’s.

On December 11, 2006, the district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, granting summary judgment. In its opinion , the court held that the school’s censorship of “Awesome God” constituted unlawful viewpoint discrimination because the song conformed to the talent show guidelines and the school permitted other acts with religious and “proselytizing” content. The court found that the school did not have “a legitimate pedagogical concern in distancing itself from proselytizing religious speech.” The court further ruled that the school’s Establishment Clause concerns could not justify censoring the plaintiff’s song because the performances in the talent show did not represent school-sponsored speech.

On April 12, 2011, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached a resolution agreement with the Owatonna Public School District ("District") in Owatonna, Minnesota, to resolve a complaint regarding the student-on-student harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students based on their race and national-origin.

The complaint arose from a November 2009 fight between several white and Somali-American students at Owatonna High School and alleged severe and pervasive harassment. Following DOJ's and OCR's investigation, the Section and OCR worked with the school district to resolve the complaint. The departments gathered evidence indicating that the district meted out disproportionate discipline for the students involved in the November 2009 incident and that the district's policies, procedures and trainings were not adequately addressing harassment against Somali-American students.

The District took affirmative steps to address the harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students, and voluntarily entered into the resolution agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the District will take all reasonable steps to ensure that all students enrolled in the district are not subject to harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, and to respond promptly and appropriately to all reports of harassment. To that end, the District has agreed to improve its policies and procedures concerning harassment and discipline as necessary to make them effectively protect students from racial or national origin-based harassment. For more information, please see this press release .

This case involves religious harassment by students against a Jewish public school teacher in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Mr. Owen, a veteran teacher of more than 30 years, filed his lawsuit in federal district court in March 2000 after an investigation by the Detroit office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded that his complaint had merit. The United States intervened in October 2000, alleging that the L'Anse Area Schools subjected Mr. Owen to religious harassment while he was employed by the school district. The United States alleged that Mr. Owen had been the target of numerous incidents of anti-Semitic harassment by his students, including the drawing and etching of swastikas and hate messages such as "Die Jews," "Kill Owen," "KKK," and "White Power" in and around his classroom on multiple occasions and the placement of a hangman's noose on his classroom door. The United States alleged that the school district failed to take effective measures to remedy the harassment and to keep it from recurring despite Mr. Owen's repeated complaints. Further, the United States alleged that as a result of the harassment, Mr. Owen was forced to take an extended medical leave and ultimately retire from the school district.

Following discovery and an unsuccessful motion for summary judgment by the school district, the parties entered mediation, reaching a settlement agreement in March 2002. Under the agreement , which the district court approved on April 11, 2002, Mr. Owen was paid $265,000. The agreement also required the school district to review and revise its policies ; train its employees to recognize, investigate and address harassment and discrimination; and educate its students about the inappropriateness of harassment and discrimination. In addition, the agreement required the district’s faculty and staff to report actual or suspected incidents of harassment or discrimination to appropriate school officials. The Justice Department monitored the school district's compliance with the settlement agreement for three years, and the case was dismissed on December 15, 2005.

In September and November 2011, the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice notified the School District of Palm Beach County that it had received complaints regarding the District's enrollment and registration practices, as well as its practices of administering school discipline. The Division then conducted an investigation, including reviewing documents and data; conducting a site visit that included tours of schools and interviews with Principals, Area Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, District Office staff, the School District of Palm Beach County Police Department, and the Superintendent; meeting with community members and local stakeholders; and reviewing and providing comments regarding the District's enrollment and discipline policies. The United States conducted its investigation with the full cooperation of the District.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the United States and the District engaged in extensive negotiations, resulting in a settlement agreement signed by the Parties on February 26, 2013. Under the settlement agreement, the district will enroll all area students regardless of background and will provide translation and interpretation services throughout the registration process. The district will also limit the use of disciplinary measures that remove students from the classroom and implement behavior management and discipline practices that support and protect students. Among other things, the agreement requires that ELL students and parents who are limited English proficient receive translation and interpretation services throughout the enrollment and discipline processes; expands the use of language-accessible positive behavior interventions and supports ("PBIS"); places limits on the use of discipline measures that remove students from the classroom; establishes clear guidelines for when law enforcement intervention is appropriate; requires school law enforcement officers to communicate with students in a language the student understands, including by securing an interpreter when appropriate; requires providing training to give teachers and administrators the tools necessary to manage their schools in a safe, effective and positive manner; and requires expanding data-driven monitoring and accountability systems. On July 25, 2016, the parties agreed to an eighteen month extension of the Agreement . 

In this matter involving sex discrimination, several high school girls and their representatives filed a complaint alleging that the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) violated Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the plaintiffs contended that the SDHSAA discriminated against female athletes by requiring girls to play certain sports (basketball and volleyball) in disadvantageous seasons. Playing in disadvantageous seasons can result in substantial harms that deny female high school athletes equal athletic opportunities, including, among others, the ability to participate in interstate competition and club competition, the opportunity to be recruited for collegiate-level sports programs, and the opportunity to have the same number of games and practices as similarly-situated boys' sports teams.

On October 17, 2000, the Department was granted leave to intervene in the lawsuit as a plaintiff-party in support of the high school girls. Subsequently, the SDHSAA moved for summary judgment on the issue of whether the association was subject to Title IX and whether it is a state actor for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Before any further briefing was completed, however, the parties agreed to engage in mediation and ultimately reached a settlement. Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the Court entered a Consent Order on December 5, 2000, requiring the SDHSAA to schedule girls' high school volleyball during the traditional fall season and girls' high school basketball during the traditional winter season beginning with the 2002-03 school year. The SDHSAA submitted a detailed plan which was subsequently agreed to by the plaintiff-parties and approved by the Court.

In June of 2002 and shortly before the season switch was to take place, a group of parents and students filed a separate lawsuit in state court that was removed to federal court, Hoffman v. South Dakota High Sch. Activities Ass'n , C.A. No. 02-4127 (D. S.D.), seeking to challenge the Consent Order entered in the Pedersen case, or in the alternative, to delay the season switch for four more years. The Hoffman plaintiffs also filed a motion for preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin the season switch immediately. The Department moved to intervene in the lawsuit as a defendant to uphold the prior Consent Order entered in the Pedersen case and the district court granted the Department's motion to intervene. The Department also filed a motion to dismiss the Hoffman lawsuit on procedural grounds that the district court held in abeyance until after the hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction. The district court conducted a three-day evidentiary hearing on the merits of the Hoffman case at which the Department presented evidence. Shortly thereafter, the district court issued an opinion denying the Hoffman plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. On January 22, 2003, the district court granted the Department's motion to dismiss and dismissed the Hoffman lawsuit with prejudice.

In this matter involving the Plainfield, New Jersey School District, the Section reviewed whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learners (ELLs), as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). Based on its review of the district, the Section raised concerns about, among other things: the school district's procedures for screening new students to determine whether they are ELLs; the opportunities that ELLs have to integrate with native speakers of English in a school setting; the extent to which the district's school libraries and media centers are accessible to ELLs; and the academic support provided by the district to ELLs who enroll in general education classes. The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, and on June 30, 2003, entered into a settlement agreement outlining the measures that the school district will take to ensure that it complies with the EEOA. The district compiled in good faith with the settlement agreement that ended on June 30, 2006.

In April 2009, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York alleging, inter alia, that the Indian River Central School District, its Board of Education, and eight of its employees violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. On June 11, 2010, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX claims. On August 13, 2010, the United States filed a motion seeking leave to participate as amicus curiae in order to provide the court with the proper legal standards governing harassment on the basis of sex under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX. The United States argues in its amicus brief that harassment based on sex stereotyping is a legally cognizable claim under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause; that sexual orientation harassment does not preclude a harassment claim based on non-conformity to sex stereotypes; and that a hostile environment claim in primary and secondary schools can span classes, grades, and schools.

In this matter involving the Prince William County School District, the Section conducted a compliance review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and other services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). On September 5, 2013, the Section and the district entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement outlining the steps the district will take to resolve the issues identified by the United States and ensure compliance with the EEOA. Among other things, the agreement requires the district to: provide all ELL students with adequate English Language Development and sheltered content instruction by qualified ELL teachers; ensure that ELL teachers and administrators receive appropriate training; monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its ELL programs; modify its enrollment and registration practices to ensure that students have access to educational programs regardless of race, national origin, or immigration status; provide ELL students and Limited English Proficient parents meaningful access to district and school-level information, such as discipline and special education forms and meetings; and take measures to ensure discipline is administered in a nondiscriminatory way, such as instituting cultural responsiveness training for teachers. The district-wide review and agreement grew out of an investigation of a complaint regarding the Fred Lynn Middle School. That investigation resulted in a 2010 agreement requiring remedial measures at that school, which was later amended by a 2011 agreement . This school and all others in the district are now subject to the 2013 agreement , which requires the district to report to the Section on the agreement's implementation through 2016.

In this matter involving the Providence Public Schools (“the District”) and the Rhode Island Department of Education (“RIDE”), the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Rhode Island examined whether the District was identifying and serving its approximately 8,000 English Learner (“EL”) students as required by Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”).  On August 9, 2018, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to address the noncompliant conditions identified by the United States and to ensure the District’s compliance with Section 1703(f) of the EEOA.  Among other things, the agreement requires the District to: identify and place EL students appropriately when they enroll in school; provide adequate language services to all EL students, including those with disabilities, so that they can become proficient in English; ensure that the English as a Second Language (“ESL”) components of its EL program are taught by ESL-certified teachers; adequately train the administrators and teachers who implement the District’s EL programs; ensure meaningful communication with Limited English Proficient parents about District and school programs and activities; provide equal opportunities for EL students to participate in specialized programs; and evaluate the effectiveness of the EL program over time.  On November 1, 2019, RIDE took control over the District, and on December 19, 2019, the parties agreed that the 2018 EL agreement would be binding upon both the District and RIDE.  On September 29, 2021, the parties executed a letter agreement , which modifies and extends the 2018 EL settlement agreement through at least the 2022-2023 school year.

2021 Letter Agreement: English  |  Español (Spanish)  | العربية (Arabic) | ខ្មែរ (Khmer) |  Kiswahili (Swahili)

In this peer-on-peer sexual harassment case, a student alleged his rights were violated under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. More specifically, the student contended the school district failed to take adequate steps to protect him from an ongoing campaign of sexual harassment by his peers.

The harassment included: three written death threats, repeated and unwanted sexual contact, offensive and hostile verbal abuse, and other acts involving intimidation and humiliation.

In response to defendants' motion to dismiss the case, the Section submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiff. In this brief, the Section argued a Title IX claim was appropriate because of the nature and severity of harassment involving conduct of a sexual nature. Furthermore, the Section argued the student's Equal Protection claim, challenging discrimination based on his actual or perceived sexual orientation, should not be dismissed. Following the amicus participation of the Section and mediation between the plaintiff and defendants, the case settled. In addition to monetary relief for the plaintiff, the school district modified its sexual harassment policies, applicable to both students and employees, to prohibit discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. The modified policies also describe the school district's responsibilities and the recourse available to victims of discrimination.

In this matter involving the Robertson County Schools in Tennessee, the United States reviewed the status of the District's compliance with its desegregation obligations as a former de jure segregated public school system. The Section determined that the district had not complied with its desegregation obligations in the areas of student assignment and school construction. In its letter of September 5, 2014 , the Section identified a series of district decisions that, over decades, impeded desegregation by building and expanding almost all-white schools while leaving African-American students disproportionately in overcrowded schools with portable classrooms. In February, 2015, the United States and the district entered into a settlement agreement to resolve the district's noncompliance with federal law. The agreement requires the district to: assign students and construct and maintain schools in a desegregated and nondiscriminatory manner; implement a new elementary school plan that furthers desegregation; eliminate overcrowding at predominately minority schools; develop a secondary school student assignment plan that will further desegregation; and provide cultural sensitivity and competency training for teachers and staff. On August 4, 2015, the United States and the district entered into another settlement agreement to further desegregation in the secondary schools through a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) magnet program and attendance zone line changes. For more information about the February 2015 agreement, please see this press release . For more information about the August 2015 agreement, please see this press release .

On August 8, 2023, the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho filed a  statement of interest in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho in  Roe, et. al. v. Critchfield, et. al .  The plaintiffs in this case are transgender students attending K-12 public schools in Idaho who are challenging S.B. 1100, a state law that prohibits transgender students from using public school facilities, including restrooms and changing facilities, consistent with their gender identity.  The United States’ brief provides its view that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Title IX and Equal Protection Clause claims.   

In this matter involving the Rowan-Salisbury School System (“the District”) in North Carolina, the Section investigated whether the District’s English Learner (EL) programs and practices complied with Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.  The investigation found system-wide failures to provide these students with the instruction and support they need to learn English and fully participate in school.  On June 17, 2021, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to resolve the District’s compliance issues identified by the United States.  The agreement requires the District to increase language instruction for all EL students, including those with disabilities, so they can become fluent in English.  The District will also train its teachers and administrators on how to support EL students in academic subjects such as math, science, and social studies.  The District will continue to improve its translation and interpretation services for Limited English Proficient parents so all parents can fully participate in their children’s education.  The agreement will remain in place for three school years.  For more information, please see this press release in English and Spanish .

On December 15, 2022, the Educational Opportunities Section along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California entered into an agreement with the San Bernardino City Unified School District resolving a multi-year investigation of the district’s English learner program under Section 1703(f) of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974. During the investigation, the United States found that the district failed to offer adequate instruction to English learners, in either the English language or in core content areas like math, science and social studies. In addition, the United States identified problems with the special education evaluations conducted by the district and the services offered to English learners with disabilities. The United States also found that English learners did not have equal access to the district’s gifted programs, and advanced coursework. In the out-of-court settlement agreement the district will ensure that students receive adequate English language instruction from trained and certified personnel. It will train core content teachers on how to work with English learners, and it will update its special education policies and trainings to meet the needs of English learners with disabilities. In addition, the district will take steps to improve access to gifted and advanced programs for English learners. The agreement will remain in place for three years. For more information please see this press release in English and Spanish ( español ).

On June 29, 2020, the Educational Opportunities Section and United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California initiated a Title IX compliance review of San José State University (“SJSU”).  The Department’s investigation principally focused on SJSU’s response to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, by an athletic trainer spanning more than a decade.  The Department also investigated reports of retaliation against two SJSU Athletics Department employees.  After conducting numerous interviews and an extensive review of SJSU’s policies, grievance procedures, training, and response to reports of sexual harassment and retaliation, the Department concluded that SJSU violated Title IX.

On September 21, 2021, the Department reached a resolution agreement with SJSU to address its noncompliance under Title IX and issued a letter  summarizing the Title IX violations.  Under the terms of the agreement, SJSU agreed to take significant steps including, among others: providing resources to the Title IX Office; publicizing Title IX policies and protocols and improving SJSU’s response to complaints of sex discrimination; developing informational materials to educate the SJSU community how to report Title IX concerns; delivering training to student-athletes and SJSU Athletics employees on giving and receiving informed consent for medical treatments and athletic training services; and providing supportive measures and remedies to student-athletes who were sexually harassed by the athletic trainer.  The agreement also requires SJSU to pay a total of $1.625 million in financial relief to individuals who were sexually harassed by the athletic trainer and participated in the Department’s or SJSU’s investigations.  The Department will carefully monitor the University’s implementation of the agreement, which will remain in place through the 2024-2025 academic year.  For more information, please see the press release .   

The Tri-Creek Corporation School District in Indiana had an attendance policy that allowed for only one day of excused absences for religious observance. After a student missed more than one day for religious worship, the District’s attendance policy stated that the student would be given an unexcused absence and subjected to various sanctions including loss of academic credit, inability to make up work, and suspension. The policy also stated that legal action may be taken against the parent.

After receiving a complaint about the enforcement of Tri-Creek’s policy, the United States intervened in the case on behalf of Ruth Scheidt and her son, M.S., both adherents to the religious tenets of the United Church of God. During the 2004-05 school year, M.S. was given eight unexcused absences for documented religious attendance; teachers failed to allow him to make up classwork and the district threatened expulsion and legal action, including the filing of educational neglect charges against Ms. Scheidt. On August 10, 2005, the Section filed a brief asserting that Tri-Creek’s attendance policy violated Ms. Scheidt and her son’s right to exercise their religion freely, and Ms. Scheidt’s right to raise her son consistent with her religious beliefs.

Shortly after the Section's intervention, the District and the plaintiffs reached a settlement that: (1) absences for religious observances will be recorded as “excused” and credit given for timely make-up work; and (2) school attendance policies will be revised to accommodate religious observances. Unlike in the past, there is now no limit on the number of excused absences a student may receive for religious observance.

In this race discrimination case, the plaintiffs sued the University of South Florida (USF), alleging that it had violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by retaliating against black players on the USF women's basketball team who had complained to university officials about discriminatory treatment by the head coach. At the summary judgment stage, the Section filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs, arguing that Title VI prohibits retaliation against individuals who complain of racially discriminatory treatment, and that this prohibition is necessary to protect the victims of racial discrimination and concerned third parties who come forward with their complaints. Prior to the court ruling on the summary judgment motion, the parties settled the case.

On January 30, 1970, the Court ordered Defendants, including the Concordia Parish School Board, to adopt a desegregation plan.  Concordia Parish School District (“District”) is still operating under the requirements of this 1970 federal desegregation order and further orders mandating the desegregation of the District.  A January 4, 2013 consent order addressed a new charter school’s obligations to comply with the court’s orders in the case and take measures to ensure equal access to the school.

A review of the Somerville School District in Massachusetts concerning the instruction and services provided to English Language Learners (ELLs) revealed the school district was not comporting with the requirements of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA). On November 25, 2008, the Section and the Somerville School District entered into a settlement agreement addressing concerns raised by the Section including specific provisions requiring: adequate registration, identification, and placement of all ELLs; ongoing training of all personnel involved in the registration, identification, and placement process; maintenance of a database of qualified and available translation and interpretation services; sufficient and appropriate instruction for ELLs; development of an English Language Development (ELD)/English as a Second Language (ESL) curricula; qualified and trained teachers of ELLs; the provision of adequate materials; appropriate special education services and language services for ELLs who are eligible for both services; careful monitoring of current and exited ELLs; and evaluation of the district’s ELL program.

On April 17, 2023, the Section entered into a settlement agreement  with the Spokane Public Schools in Spokane, Washington to address the discriminatory use of seclusion and restraint against students with disabilities.  The agreement followed an investigation conducted under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into complaints that the school district inappropriately secluded and restrained children with disabilities and failed to use appropriate behavior interventions.  The Department’s investigation concluded that the school district inappropriately and repeatedly secluded and restrained students with disabilities and did not limit its use of restraint and seclusion to emergency situations, as required by state law and the district policy.  Instead, the district restrained and secluded students with disabilities to address noncompliant behavior, even when those actions appeared to escalate the behavior or when students showed clear signs of trauma.  As a result, the District’s restraint and seclusion practices segregated hundreds of students with disabilities from their classmates and resulted in students missing hundreds of hours of instructional time.

Under the settlement agreement, the school district will take proactive steps to ensure that its practices do not discriminate against students on the basis of disability. The district will, among other steps: prohibit the use of seclusion; limit the use of restraint; document and report all instances of seclusion and restraint; appoint a district-level administrator to review all incidents of seclusion and restraint to ensure proper follow-up occurs; create classroom-wide Behavior Management Plans for its programs serving students with high-intensity behaviors that are based on data analysis and that promote and reinforce positive behaviors; provide copies of and explain classroom plans to parents and guardians; develop a complaint procedure and respond in a timely fashion to all complaints regarding the use of restraint or seclusion; offer counseling and compensatory education services to students with disabilities who were subjected to the district’s discriminatory practices; deliver appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement; and ensure the district’s compliance with the agreement and Title II of the ADA. For more information, please see this letter ,  press release , and  summary of settlement agreement .

In this matter involving the Stamford Public School District, the Section and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut (“USAO”) conducted a comprehensive review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate services to English Language Learner (“ELL”)  students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. §1703(f).  On February 28, 2014, the Section, the USAO, and the district entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to resolve the district’s noncompliance with the EEOA.  The agreement requires the district to: provide language acquisition services to all ELL students until they reach the state’s English proficiency criteria; ensure that teachers of ELL students are qualified to provide these services; make appropriate language services available for ELL students with disabilities; obtain adequate materials for ELL students; and monitor students after they exit ELL services to ensure they are participating meaningfully and equally in the district’s instructional program.  Under the Agreement, the district will implement a tiered services plan to ensure that ELL services are appropriate to ELL students’ English language proficiency levels, designed to address their individualized needs, and effective.  The district will ensure that ELL students who are not making sufficient yearly progress receive additional ELL services.  For more information, please see this press release .

In February of 1970, the District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi entered separate orders requiring the Starkville Municipal Separate School District and the Oktibbeha County School District to desegregate. In 2015, the Mississippi Legislature consolidated the two school districts, and, in 2016, the new Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District (the “District”) and the United States filed a joint motion to approve a new desegregation order. The District Court granted the motion and approved the consent order on March 3, 2016.

The consent order requires the District to eliminate segregative policies and practices in its operations regarding student assignment, faculty and staff hiring, transportation, extracurriculars, and facilities. Specific provisions in the consent order require the District to, among other things, provide equal access to gifted-and-talented and advanced programs; analyze the equity of bus assignments and routes; and hire, promote, pay, demote, discipline, non-renew, and dismiss faculty and staff without regard to race, color, or national origin. The District must also have a Biracial Advisory Committee, which will advise the District on the desegregation plan.  The Section is monitoring the District’s efforts to achieve unitary status and comply with the consent order.

This case involves claims against the Department of Education of the State of Hawaii and various government officials for alleged violations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that defendants intentionally discriminated against Aaron L. because of his disability (Down Syndrome), failed to provide him with appropriate special education services, and denied him a free appropriate public education, all in violation of Section 504 and the IDEA. Plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive and other equitable relief.

Both defendants and plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment. Defendants asserted that plaintiffs' claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiffs asserted that they should be able to demonstrate discriminatory intent, for purposes of obtaining compensatory damages under Section 504, with evidence that defendants acted with deliberate indifference or conscious disregard for their federal rights.

In its intervention brief filed on May 25, 2001, the Section defended the constitutionality of Section 504 and the IDEA. The Section also filed an amicus brief arguing that a plaintiff seeking compensatory damages under Section 504 may rely on the deliberate indifference standard to prove discriminatory intent.

On June 18, 2001, the district court upheld the constitutionality of Section 504 and the IDEA, and ruled that a plaintiff seeking compensatory damages under Section 504 may establish intentional discrimination by showing that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's federally protected rights.

On June 30, 2011, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached a resolution agreement with the Tehachapi Unified School District in Tehachapi, California, to resolve a complaint regarding the harassment of a middle school student based on his nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The complaint arose from the September 2010 death of Jacobsen Middle School student Seth Walsh, who took his own life at the age of 13. Following OCR's investigation, the Section joined OCR in working with the school district to resolve the complaint. The investigation found that Walsh suffered sexual and gender-based harassment by his peers for more than two school years because of his nonconformity with gender stereotypes.

As summarized in a detailed letter of findings , the departments determined that the harassment, which included ongoing and escalating verbal, physical and sexual harassment by other students at school, was sufficiently severe, pervasive and persistent to interfere with his educational opportunities, and that the school district failed to appropriately respond to notice of the harassment. The departments concluded that the school district violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and Title IV of the Civil Rights of 1964, both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes and sexual harassment. Under the terms of the agreement, the district agreed to take a variety of steps to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment at all of its schools, to respond appropriately to harassment that occurs, and to eliminate the hostile environment resulting from harassment. These steps include adopting revised policies and procedures for handling sexual and gender-based harassment complaints, conducting trainings for faculty, staff, and students, and reporting data to OCR and DOJ for five years. For more information, please see this press release.

On July 20, 2023, the Section entered into a resolution agreement with Teton County School District #1 in Wyoming to resolve the department’s investigation into the district’s responses to alleged sexual harassment, retaliation, and disability discrimination conducted under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The agreement requires the school district to work with a consultant to review and revise its anti-harassment policies and practices and ensure it responds appropriately to discrimination complaints and adopts appropriate supportive and remedial measures using the district’s Multi-Tiered Support System.  The district also will: prohibit and take reasonable steps to prevent retaliation; implement school climate assessments; implement an engagement plan; train its civil rights coordinator and other staff on their obligations under the district’s antidiscrimination policies and resolution procedures; and institute internal monitoring and auditing procedures to ensure compliance and regularly evaluate its antidiscrimination program. For more information, please see the press release .

On June 11, 2021, the Section and the U.S. Department of Education filed a statement of interest to assist the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska in evaluating the Title IX peer sexual assault and retaliation claims for damages in Thomas v. Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska , Case No. 4:20-cv-03081. In this case, the plaintiffs, current and former students of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), allege that UNL discriminated against them on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX when UNL allegedly responded to their reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and/or retaliation with deliberate indifference that created and/or left them in a hostile educational environment. Plaintiffs also allege that UNL violated Title IX by engaging in retaliatory actions against them in response to their reports of peer retaliation and sexual assault. In the statement of interest responding to UNL’s motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ Title IX claims, the United States set forth the proper legal standards for the court to apply to plaintiffs’ Title IX claims for damages based on alleged sexual assaults and retaliation. The United States took no position on whether plaintiffs’ allegations in their complaint state plausible Title IX claims for damages under those legal standards.

This is a longstanding desegregation case in the Western District of Louisiana, where the St. Martin Parish School Board has not fulfilled its desegregation obligations in the following areas: student assignment, faculty assignment, and quality of education in graduation pathways and discipline.  To remedy the student assignment issues, the United States, the School Board, and the Private Plaintiffs represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, entered into a consent order on June 9, 2023 . The 2023 consent order provides for  student transfers to promote desegregation across the District and establishes a plan to develop a robust magnet program to further desegregate the St. Martinville zone.  The parties are still negotiating and litigating remedial measures for creating attendance zone changes that  desegregate the District’s schools.  Following a period of litigation from 2021-2023 regarding the District’s compliance with a 2016 Superseding Consent Order , the District Court  entered an order on May 25, 2023 that requires the District to take additional steps regarding faculty assignment, graduation pathways, and discipline.  The Court will retain jurisdiction over the case and consent order, and the Justice Department will monitor the District’s compliance.  For more information, please see this press release .

Additional Documents:

On July 31, 2020, the district and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to address and prevent discriminatory discipline of students based on race or disability and to require appropriate language services for limited English proficient (LEP) parents on matters essential to their children’s education.  The agreement followed a federal civil rights investigation by the Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio into complaints of discriminatory treatment of African-American students and students with disabilities in school suspensions, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement agencies, which was conducted under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  The Department also investigated under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 allegations concerning the district’s communications with parents and guardians with language barriers.  Under the settlement agreement, the district will take proactive steps to ensure its discipline practices do not discriminate against students based on race or disability.  The district will, among other things, regularly review how schools handle discipline incidents to ensure non-discriminatory treatment, expand its use of positive behavior supports, and provide appropriate training and resources to help schools implement the agreement, including training for teachers, administrators, and school safety officers.  In addition, for parents and guardians with language barriers, the district will ensure it communicates essential school-related information in a language that they understand so their children can access the district’s instructional programs.  The United States will monitor compliance with the terms of the three-year agreement.  For more information, please see this press release .  On December 15, 2023, the parties executed an extension agreement , which modifies and extends the 2020 settlement agreement through the 2024-2025 school year.

Settlement Agreement: English  |  Acuerdo de Conciliación:  Español (Spanish)  | Extension Agreement

The Department of Justice and the Department of Education filed a statement of interest  on February 20, 2015 with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Tooley v. Van Buren Public Schools. In this case, the plaintiff, a transgender boy, alleges that several Michigan school districts unlawfully subjected him to harassment and denied him equal treatment and benefits based on his sex. In the statement of interest, the departments advised the court that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibit discrimination against students because of their sex, including on the basis of a student's gender identity, transgender status, or nonconformity to sex stereotypes. The departments concluded that plaintiff's allegations of sex discrimination on each of these bases under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause were sufficient to deny the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Wyandotte Public Schools.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Education filed a statement of interest on January 25, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in T.R. v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, No. 15-04782.  This case involves Limited English Proficient (LEP) parents of students with disabilities who allege that the Philadelphia School District intentionally discriminates against them based on national origin by not providing complete and timely translations and interpretations of special education and regular education documents.  In the statement of interest, the departments explained that under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 case law and federal regulations and guidance, school districts have an obligation to provide LEP parents with a meaningful opportunity to participate in their children’s education.  The statement of interest also supported the plaintiffs’ claims under the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA) by explaining that “appropriate action” under the EEOA includes translations and interpretations for LEP parents.  On November 30, 2016, the court issued a memorandum opinion denying the district’s motion to dismiss in its entirety and relied on the United States’ brief in the discussion of why the court was not dismissing the EEOA and Title VI claims.

On March 16, 2023, the Section entered into a settlement agreement with the Twin Valley School District in Whitingham, VT to address the District’s response to complaints of student-on-student harassment based on race and sex. The Civil Rights Division’s Educational Opportunities Section and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Vermont jointly conducted the investigation under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c et seq . Under the settlement agreement, the school district will implement the following reforms: modify district policies and procedures to prevent and address peer harassment; undertake periodic assessments of school climate at Twin Valley Middle-High School and implement responsive programming to remedy hostile educational environments; and improve training for district employees who receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints of harassment. For more information, please see this cover letter and press release .

In this matter involving Union Public Schools, the Section examined whether the Oklahoma school district was providing appropriate services to its approximately 3,500 English Learner (“EL”) students, as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”).  On June 26, 2018, the Section and the District entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement outlining the steps that the District will take to resolve the issues identified by the United States and ensure the District’s compliance with Section 1703(f) of the EEOA.  Among other things, the agreement requires the District to: provide adequate language services to all EL students, including those with disabilities, so that they can become proficient in English; ensure that the English as a Second Language (“ESL”) components of its EL program are taught by ESL-certified teachers; adequately train the administrators and teachers who implement the EL program; ensure meaningful communication with Limited English Proficient parents about District and school programs and activities; and evaluate the effectiveness of the EL program over time.  The parties anticipate the agreement will remain in place through 2021. 

This desegregation case was in active litigation for two years when the school district moved to have the case dismissed in November 1998. Following a review of information provided by the district, a tour of district schools and subsequent rulings by the court, the parties entered into a consent order in November 1999. The agreement set forth a plan for the district to take additional steps to desegregate the school system and to eliminate vestiges of discrimination from the former segregated system.

Under the settlement, the district agreed to: (1) implement a new elementary school assignment plan and convert two historically minority schools into magnet schools; (2) eliminate general tracks in secondary schools while keeping certain advanced and gifted and talented tracks; (3) implement reforms to its bilingual education and English as a Second Language programs; (4) develop an action plan in each secondary school to increase minority participation in extracurricular activities; and (5) implement a mentoring program to identify potential minority candidates for administrative intern and teaching positions. As a result, minority enrollment increased in advanced and gifted classes, the magnet schools enrolled diverse student bodies, and the English Language Learner program was significantly improved. On September 12, 2002, the court declared the district unitary and dismissed the case.

This English Language Learner (“ELL”) case originally arose from a desegregation order entered against the State of Texas and the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”). In 1972, the League of United Latin American Citizens (“LULAC”) and GI Forum were allowed to intervene in the desegregation case as representatives of Mexican Americans in Texas. Most recently, on February 9, 2006, LULAC and GI Forum filed a motion for further relief under the statewide desegregation order and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”). Their motion alleges that Texas and TEA have failed to sufficiently monitor and enforce programs for ELL students in public schools across the state, thereby wrongfully denying those students equal educational opportunities.

In their briefs responding to the motion for further relief, the state defendants claimed immunity from suit under the Eleventh Amendment and argued that the EEOA failed to validly abrogate this immunity. On July 10, 2006, the Section filed a response to these briefs, asserting that the EEOA abrogated states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity because the statute constituted a reasonably tailored legislative response to a long history of unconstitutional discrimination against national origin minorities. In its August 11, 2006 memorandum opinion , the district court agreed with the Section’s analysis and held that the EEOA abrogated the state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity.

On November 30, 2007, the United States filed a motion for further relief asserting that the Evangeline Parish School Board had failed to fully implement an earlier agreed upon school reorganization plan. The United States sought additional relief, including, either, completion of certain renovations at a majority black high school, construction of a new facility at this high school, or grade restructuring and mandatory reassignment of students from other schools to eliminate the racial identifiability of the school. On December 22, 2009, after significant litigation the court entered a consent order negotiated by the parties that requires the District to take remedial measures in the areas of personnel assignment, facilities, student assignment and quality of education.

Following the Supreme Court's decision, the Board of Visitors of The Citadel voted to admit women to its Corps of Cadets, and, in August 1996, four women joined the entering class of students. When allegations surfaced in December 1996 that two of the women had been harassed and physically abused, the United States initiated an investigation into The Citadel's assimilation efforts. This investigation was separate and apart from the contemporaneous criminal investigation initiated by federal and state law enforcement authorities.

Subsequently the court required The Citadel to submit a revised plan for the assimilation of women. This led to a consent order that, among other things, required The Citadel to: hire a full-time Assistant Commandant to coordinate the assimilation of women into the Corps of Cadets, a fulltime Dean of Women and a full-time recruiter to coordinate female recruitment efforts; institute regular, mandatory sexual harassment-prevention training of all students and staff; undertake specific efforts to recruit women; develop formal assessment tools to evaluate assimilation; hire and station eight additional adult officers in each of the barracks to increase supervision; establish a female assimilation study group to evaluate assimilation efforts and make reports to the president of the college; promptly complete all facilities modifications to accommodate women in all barracks; revise school publications to eliminate sex-restrictive language; and establish informal complaint reporting mechanisms, including the establishment of a college Ombudsman to serve as a confidential recipient of complaints of harassment or abuse. On March 28, 2002, the court entered an agreed order of dismissal to which the parents had agreed, thereby dismissing the case.

The Section filed a complaint alleging that defendants engaged in race discrimination by failing to provide equal educational opportunities for the American Indian students residing in Navajo Mountain. Specifically, the district failed to provide a secondary school located reasonably near their place of residence, as is done for all other students residing in the district. Prior to the filing of this lawsuit, American Indian students who lived in the Navajo Mountain community attended boarding schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs 90 miles away from home. The nearest district high school was 171 miles away from the Navajo Mountain area. The court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. One year later, the parties entered into a settlement agreement , and the new Navajo Mountain High School opened for classes in 1998.

This case arose out of a long-standing school desegregation suit filed by the United States against the State of Texas, Texas Education Agency (“TEA”), and various school districts. In 1971, the district court entered a desegregation order that, among other things, prohibited TEA from approving or funding interdistrict student transfers that have the cumulative effect of reducing or impeding desegregation in one of the districts. In 2003, Hearne Independent School District (“Hearne”) intervened in the underlying suit, claiming that transfers from Hearne to Mumford Independent School District (“Mumford”) had reduced or impeded desegregation in Hearne, and that TEA improperly continued to fund those transfers. In 2004, the Division filed a motion to enforce the desegregation order against TEA and Mumford.

After a bench trial, the district court found that the transfers from Hearne to Mumford reduced desegregation in Hearne, that Mumford had engaged in fraudulent conduct to circumvent the requirements of the desegregation order, and that the TEA had not complied with the order. The district court enjoined Mumford from accepting–and TEA from funding–all of the transfers that reduced or impeded desegregation in Hearne. Mumford and TEA subsequently appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On July 24, 2006, the Fifth Circuit reversed and vacated the district court’s judgment. In its opinion , the Fifth Circuit held that the district court’s factual findings were clearly erroneous and that its remedy was overly broad. The Fifth Circuit further held that Mumford could not be held liable for violating the desegregation order without a finding that it intentionally engaged in segregative conduct because it was not a party defendant to the original desegregation lawsuit.

This is a long-standing desegregation case in the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. On November 9, 2006, the court approved a consent decree that obliges the district to take measures in the areas of student attendance and assignment, facilities, employee assignment, and student transfers. These measures include, but are not limited to: maintaining facilities and resources at Ruth Hill, a former black school, that are comparable to those at other elementary schools; implementing new attendance zones and policies; and assigning principals and instructional staff in a manner that does not identify a school as intended for one race.

The Section assessed whether the Dublin City School District (Dublin) was complying with its school desegregation orders and applicable federal law. In the course of its review, the Section determined that Dublin’s ability grouping and heterogeneous class assignments were violating a desegregation order. The Section also determined that Dublin was using race-based class assignments to dissuade white students from transferring to the surrounding majority white district of Laurens County (Laurens) and that transfers from Dublin to Laurens were negatively impacting desegregation in Dublin’s schools. The Section attempted unsuccessfully to negotiate voluntary relief with Dublin and Laurens.

On April 15, 2004, the Section filed a motion and supporting memorandum to hold Dublin in contempt for its class assignment violations and for further relief against Dublin and Laurens to enforce an order governing interdistrict transfers. Dublin moved for unitary status, and the Section filed an opposition . Pursuant to the court’s instructions, the United States filed a motion to join Laurens as a necessary defendant and a supplemental complaint against Laurens.

On June 23, 2005, after extensive discovery, the United States and Dublin agreed to a consent order and a settlement agreement that resolved all issues between them, except for the interdistrict transfer issue. The consent order , which was approved by the court on July 1, 2005, governs student assignments to classes and schools, extracurricular activities, and transportation. The settlement agreement governs faculty, administrators, staff, gifted programs, special education, and diploma tracks. Many of the black students improperly classified as having a Mild Intellectual Disability or an Emotional/Behavioral Disorder have been exited from special education under the agreement.

On February 21, 2006, the Section moved for summary judgment against Laurens on the interdistrict transfer issue. Laurens filed an opposition, and the Section filed a reply . The Section also moved for summary judgment against Dublin. Dublin opposed by adopting Laurens’s opposition. Laurens moved for summary judgment on the transfer issue, but Dublin did not. The Section filed an opposition to Laurens’s motion and a motion to exclude Laurens’s expert report. This motion and the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment are fully briefed and pending before the court. To obtain copies of the unsealed exhibits to any of the linked documents, please call (202) 514-4092.

This case arose out of a long-standing school desegregation suit filed by the United States on August 1, 1969 against the State of Georgia and 81 individual school districts. Subsequent to substantive rulings from the District Court and the Court of Appeals, the District Court approved a comprehensive consent decree in 1974.  Thereafter, in March 2013, the District Court approved a consent decree with provisions addressing each of the Green factors: (1) student assignment, including school assignment, student transfers, classroom assignment, gifted and talented, and discipline; (2) faculty and staff, including faculty assignment and faculty hiring; (3) transportation; (4) facilities; and (5) extracurricular activities. On May 25, 2017, the District Court approved a new consent decree , which replaced the March 2013 consent decree and all previous orders in the matter. The May 2017 consent decree provides that the district has satisfied its obligations in the areas of transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities, and includes remedial measures to address outstanding concerns related to the remaining Green factors, student assignment and faculty and staff. The consent decree is intended to enable the district to establish the record needed for a declaration of full unitary status.

In the late 1980's, the litigation was reactivated when the United States and the plaintiff-intervenors moved to compel Meriwether to comply with the July 23, 1973 permanent injunction. Those proceedings resulted in an order dated June 28, 1990, which established a new student attendance zone plan, prohibited most intra-district and inter-district transfers, and required teaching and staff assignments at schools to remain within 5% of the district-wide racial percentages for teachers and staff. The court also ordered Meriwether to offer the same courses above the core curriculum at both Manchester and Greenville High Schools. In 1996, the court approved a five-year facilities plan proposed by the district. In 1999, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s approval of the plan. United States & Ridley v. State of Georgia (Meriwether Co. Bd. Of Educ.) , 171 F.3d 1333 (11th Cir. 1999).

On August 28, 2003, Meriwether moved for a declaration of unitary status. The United States objected to the district’s motion. Subsequent to comprehensive discovery and negotiations, the court approved a Consent Decree on October 21, 2004, which essentially requires the district to fully implement the plan previously approved by the court and to see unitary status in 2007.

The Section intervened in a suit filed by plaintiffs who sought relief from violations of a court-ordered settlement agreement made between private plaintiffs and the district in 1976. The suit involved allegations that defendants failed to provide equal educational services to American Indian students in the district. Our complaint-in-intervention alleged that the district failed to provide equal educational opportunities to American Indian students and failed to provide an appropriate program of education for limited-English-proficient Navajo students. The case was settled by consent agreement and covered the issues raised in our complaint. The settlement called for the establishment of four committees to review the district's programs in general curriculum, special education, and bilingual education and to hear disputes that arise under the agreement. The district has adjusted its educational programs accordingly, including its program for students who are limited English proficient.

This case was brought by the Section in 1980 as both an education and housing desegregation case against the City of Yonkers, the Yonkers Board of Education (YBOE), and the Yonkers Community Development agency. The Yonkers Branch of the NAACP (NAACP) intervened as plaintiffs in 1981, and the case was certified as a class action on behalf of all parents of minority (black and Hispanic) children attending the Yonkers Public Schools (YPS) and all minority residents of Yonkers currently residing in, or eligible to reside in, publicly assisted housing. In 1985, the district court found that the defendants had intentionally segregated the City's public schools and housing over a forty-year period. The court order designed to desegregate the schools became known as the Educational Improvement Plan I (EIP I). EIP I, which primarily involved a magnet school program, desegregated the district with respect to student and faculty assignment.

In September 1987, the YBOE filed a cross-claim against the State of New York, alleging that the State also was liable for the prior segregation in housing and education and that there were continuing vestiges of the prior school segregation that were not being addressed by EIP I. In 1993, the district court found that vestiges of segregation existed in the YPS but that precedent from the Second Circuit precluded the court from holding the State liable as a defendant. In 1996, a panel of the Second Circuit distinguished this precedent and ruled that the State could be held liable for the prior segregation. In 1996,the City filed a third-party cross-claim against the State to obtain state contributions to the costs of implementing the school desegregation orders. In 1997, the district court held that the same vestiges identified in 1993 still existed in 1997, and it ordered the State and City to fund a remedial plan known as EIP II. These defendants appealed.

In June 1999, a panel of the Second Circuit initially reversed the district court's 1993 and 1997 vestiges findings and remanded the case to end the action. In a November 1999 decision, the panel withdrew the June 1999 decision, but maintained its reversal of the vestiges findings and remanded the case to the district court to determine if any other vestiges existed. In November 2000, the district court found that five vestiges of segregation existed in YPS as of 1997: (1) disproportionate academic tracking of minority students into the least demanding classes; (2) disproportionately high discipline of minority students; (3) disproportionately high referrals of minorities to special education; (4) inadequate pupil personnel services; and (5) inadequate services for limited-English-proficient students. The court directed the court-appointed monitor to determine whether evidence since 1997 showed that these five vestiges still existed, and it urged the parties to settle the case.

The Section and the other parties were actively involved in negotiations until they reached a settlement of the case in January 2002. In March 2002, the court conducted a fairness hearing and approved the settlement . The settlement dismissed the education portion of the case with prejudice while retaining court jurisdiction to enforce the settlement's terms. In the settlement, the parties did not agree that the YPS was entitled to a court declaration of unitary status, but rather that the YPS was unitary with respect to the six Green factors and that disputed issues regarding vestiges were resolved by the educational programs and funding provided under the settlement. The settlement required the State to provide $300 million over a five-year period to fund over forty remedial educational programs. The settlement ended on its own terms on June 30, 2006, effectively ending the case.

In this long-standing desegregation case, a consent decree negotiated between the Section and the school district was approved by the court on October 15, 2004. The consent decree includes provisions requiring the district to: cease assigning students to classrooms in a manner that creates racially segregated classrooms; conduct an investigation of racial differences in assignment to its gifted and talented program; alter its method for assigning students to honors classes; cease allowing the use of race-conscious policies or procedures in all of its extracurricular activities; and desegregate certain bus routes.

This longstanding desegregation case was filed by the United States in 1967, and a private plaintiff was granted the right to intervene in 1987. On July 23, 1969, the court approved the school district's first desegregation plan, and, in response to a motion for further relief, the court issued a new order concerning student assignment on April 20, 1987, which was subsequently modified in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2003, and 2005. On May 28, 2009, the court issued an order granting, in part, and denying, in part, a motion filed by the school district for approval of a new desegregation plan. The court subsequently declared the school district partially unitary status in the areas of transportation (March 9, 2012), faculty and staff assignment (Sept. 2, 2012), and extracurricular activities (Dec. 14, 2012). The school district also filed a motion for a declaration of partial unitary status in the area of facilities, which was denied and later renewed on August 18, 2013. On April 6, 2014, the district filed a motion for a declaration of full unitary status, which the United States opposed on June 3, 2014. On October 8, 2014, the court issued an order directing the parties to participate in mediation on all unresolved issues, and on May 21, 2015 approved a negotiated consent order that requires the district to implement a new student assignment and transfer policy; adopt new outreach and admission procedures at the district's charter and magnet schools; and implement a new student discipline policy.

In this long-standing desegregation case involving the Bertie County (North Carolina) Board of Education, the Section commenced informal discovery to assess whether the school district was complying with its desegregation order and applicable federal law. Based on its review of the district, the Section identified concerns regarding the school district’s assignment of students, faculty and staff assignments, and student transfer policies. The school district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, but were not able to develop a mutually satisfactory agreement.

On September 26, 2002, the Section filed a motion requesting further relief. In its supporting memorandum of law , the Section asked the district court to order the school district to develop a new desegregation plan that would address vestiges of segregation in student, faculty, and staff assignments as well as student transfers. On April 22, 2003, the district court issued an order granting the Section's motion and directing the school district to file a new desegregation plan to address the vestiges identified in the Section's motion.

On December 19, 2003, the school district filed its proposed desegregation plan. After discovery and negotiations, the Section filed a response to the plan on February 24, 2005. In this response, the Section objected only in part to the proposed student assignment plan, which would have failed to desegregate Askewville Elementary School to the extent practicable. The Section also recommended consideration of more effective alternatives for desegregation and raised the issue of the poor condition of JP Law Elementary School, a small historically black school with declining enrollment. The parties reached an interim agreement on these lingering issues, which culminated in a consent order entered on June 24, 2005. This order called for the reconfiguration of attendance zone lines for Askewville, an independent facilities assessment of the elementary and middle schools in the district, and the development of a new student assignment plan.

Following the completion of the facilities assessment and further negotiations, the parties reached agreement about student assignment, transfers, and facilities. This agreement, reflected in the court-approved consent order of March 17, 2006, established a timeline for closing Askewville and JP Law Elementary Schools and required the re-drawing of elementary school attendance zone lines. The order also prohibited the consideration of race in classroom assignments in other elementary schools and enumerated annual reporting requirements. Finally, the order declared that the school district had complied with its desegregation obligations with respect to transportation, extra-curricular activities, and faculty and staff assignment.

This longstanding school desegregation case was initiated by the United States in 1970.  On January 13, 2017, the United States and the Hendry County School Board filed a joint motion for declaration of partial unitary status and sought court approval of a stipulation governing faculty and staff recruiting and student discipline.  On January 23, 2017, the court granted the parties’ motion , declaring that the school district had achieved partial unitary status with respect to student assignment between schools, transportation, facilities, and extracurricular activities.  The court also approved the parties’ stipulation regarding faculty and staff recruiting and student discipline and will retain jurisdiction over these areas.

In 1980, the United States filed suit against the Chicago Board of Education alleging the board was violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by unlawfully segregating students in its schools on the basis of race and national origin. On the same day the United States filed its complaint, the parties filed a school desegregation consent decree the court entered on September 24, 1980.

In January 2003, the court directed the parties to examine the continued viability of the 1980 consent decree. The parties evaluated the board’s compliance with its desegregation obligations and jointly developed a modified consent decree sought to achieve the goals of the original consent decree under the changed factual and legal circumstances facing the board. On March 1, 2004, the Court approved the modified consent decree , which required the board to fulfill obligations in the following areas: student assignment; faculty assignment; facilities; transportation; compensatory and supplemental programs; desegregation funding; discipline; higher level course offerings; extracurricular activities; and English Language Learner (“ELL”) programs.

The United States moved to enforce the modified consent decree on four occasions. On one such occasion, the United States filed a motion to enforce the board’s desegregation funding obligations and its duty to provide majority-to-minority (“M-to-M transfers”). The board filed an opposition, and the United States filed a reply . On December 7, 2004, the court issued an opinion in favor of the United States. On August 26, 2005, the United States filed a motion to show cause because the board once again failed to comply with its desegregation funding duties. The board filed an opposition, and the United States filed a reply . On September 21, 2005, the court ruled that the board’s 2005-06 desegregation budget did not comply with the modified consent decree. The parties resolved this dispute through a stipulated settlement the court approved on November 9, 2005.

In the fall of 2005, the court asked the parties and amici to file position papers on whether the modified consent decree should be dismissed or continued in an altered form. The parties filed briefs requesting court approval of a second amended consent approving the parties’ settlement with slight modifications. The August 10, 2006 order requires the board to: continue magnet and specialized schools, offer M-to-M transfers, monitor open enrollment transfers to ensure they do not negatively impact desegregation, fund compensatory programs at racially isolated schools, take steps to diversify the applicant pool for principals, and provide adequate services to ELL students.

On February 16, 2008, the United States filed a motion to enforce the ELL provisions of the 2006 amended consent decree. The United States argued the board had failed to comply with these ELL provisions in three ways: (1)the board had not demonstrated 30% of its special education ELLs were appropriately served, (2) thousands of ELLs received no ELL services or untimely and inadequate ELL services, and(3)the board failed to provide native language instruction and materials for many of its Transitional Bilingual Education programs. After conducting fact and expert discovery, the parties participated in a twelve-day trial in early 2009 regarding whether the board had achieved unitary status in all areas. At the trial, the board sought dismissal of the entire case, and the United States vigorously opposed dismissal of the ELL provisions. On February 20, 2009, the United States filed a post-trial brief, urging the court to require the board to file a proposal regarding how it intends to operate the magnet and specialized schools so the court can assess the board’s good faith, and to order appropriate relief to ensure ELLs receive the services required by the August 10, 2006 order. The parties await a ruling from the court.

On February 20, 2009, the United States filed a post-trial brief , urging the court to require the board to file a proposal regarding how it intends to operate the magnet and specialized schools so the court can assess the board’s good faith, and to order appropriate relief to ensure ELLs receive the services required by the August 10, 2006 order. On September 3, 2009, the United States filed a supplemental brief in light of the Supreme Court ruling in Horne v. Flores. On September 24, 2009, the court vacated the August 10, 2006 order and dismissed the case.

In this longstanding desegregation case, January 7, 2009, the Court entered a consent decree negotiated by the parties finds the district unitary in all areas except student assignment and quality of education. Pursuant to the terms of the consent decree, the District will seek the Southeastern Equity Center’s assistance in the administration of disciplinary measures and ensuring students equal access to admission in the District’s gifted programs.

This school desegregation lawsuit was initiated by the United States on November 30, 1970. On April 1, 1971, the court ordered defendants to implement a desegregation plan, which was modified by subsequent court orders in 1979, 1981, and 1992. On June 30, 2008, the court approved a consent decree declaring the school district partially unitary in the areas of student assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. To address the United States' concerns that a number of Valdosta's schools were racially identifiable in terms of the demographics of school-based personnel, the 2008 consent decree required the Board to take additional steps to meet its obligations in the areas of faculty and staff. The Board was required to develop personnel policies and procedures related to the recruitment, hiring, and assignment of faculty and certified staff; to assign school-based personnel so that no school would be racially identifiable by its faculty; to maintain applications for employment for a three-year period; and to submit periodic compliance reports to the United States and the court. On March 21, 2011, the Board filed a motion for unitary status and motion to dismiss. The United States, finding that the Board had not fully complied with the terms of the 2008 Consent Decree, opposed the Board's motions in a response filed on November 21, 2011. Following settlement negotiations, the parties agreed to a consent order , approved by the court on February 29, 2012, which modifies and extends the terms of the 2008 Consent Decree for two years. Pursuant to the 2012 Consent Order, the Board agreed to withdraw its motion for unitary status and motion to dismiss. For more information on the 2012 Consent Order, please see this press release .

In this desegregation case, the United States determined that the Calhoun County school district was permitting students to transfer to any school in the district without regard to the impact these transfers had on the school district's desegregation obligations. The United States and the school district agreed on a transfer policy that governs the transfer of students within the school district and to other school districts. The parties presented the transfer policy as part of a consent decree that was submitted to the federal district court for its consideration and approval. In 2004, the parties also agreed to the consolidation of all middle school grades at one school located in the district. This agreement was approved by the court and became effective in the 2004-05 school year.

In 2001, the Section received complaints from Asian students at Lafayette High School (LHS) in Brooklyn, NY that alleged numerous instances of national origin discrimination. This discrimination took many forms, ranging from inadequate services for English Language Learner (ELL) students to school officials’ indifferent reaction to persistent verbal and physical peer harassment of Asian students. In one well-publicized case, four Chinese students returning to LHS for their senior year were informed that they had graduated the previous year, though guidance counselors had erroneously informed them otherwise. School officials initially prohibited the graduated students from returning to high school for an additional year of college preparation, notwithstanding the fact that it was too late for them to apply for college admission or receive financial aid. In other cases, Asian students at LHS who assumed they were on track to graduate were forced to return for additional semesters after falling one or two credits short of their graduation requirement when counselors failed to schedule them for the correct classes.

After a lengthy investigation the United States filed a complaint against the City of New York and the Board of Education of the New York City School District on February 2, 2004. The United States alleged violations of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act stemming from defendants’ failure to ameliorate the hostile environment for Asian students at LHS, and further charged that defendants violated the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA) by failing to take appropriate action to help ELL students overcome their language barriers. Four months later, the parties entered into a consent decree that obliged defendants to develop a compliance plan to remedy the transgressions alleged in the United States’ complaint. The Section, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, is currently monitoring the defendants’ performance under the compliance plan to ensure that there is no recurrence of the events that gave rise to the complaint.

The Section brought suit against Virginia in 1990 under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after receiving a signed, written complaint from a female high school student in Virginia about the males-only admission policy of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia had failed to justify its exclusion of women from VMI's unique educational program.

Following the Supreme Court's decision and VMI's admission of women in 1997, the Section monitored the integration of women into the institution. As a result of a March 21, 2000 Order requiring Virginia to provide more extensive information on its integration efforts at VMI, the Section reviewed reports regarding male and female students in the areas of recruitment and admissions, retention, financial aid, gender relations, physical training, and women's varsity athletics. The Section worked cooperatively with Virginia to resolve its concerns arising from information contained in the reports, and, as a result, the parties signed and the court entered a Joint Motion for Dismissal on December 6, 2001.

On December 6, 2016, the District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas approved a consent order to address the remaining issue in the Watson Chapel School District desegregation case, the administration of school discipline. The consent order will replace the use of punitive discipline with more positive approaches as part of an overall focus on improving student achievement and school climate.   As part of the consent order, the district will be required to:

  • Revise its Code of Conduct, which currently allows the harshest discipline to be imposed for the most minor offense, to instead strictly limit the use of exclusionary discipline, including prohibiting expulsions or out-of-school suspensions for offenses that do not threaten safety;
  • Stop the use of corporal punishment, which has been disproportionately applied against black students and undermined the creation of a positive school climate;
  • Assess the district’s support services for students with disabilities to ensure that students, particularly students of color, are not disciplined for their disabilities; and
  • Enter into an agreement with the law enforcement agencies that provide School Resource Officers to the district that makes clear that Officers will not become involved in enforcing school discipline rules, prevents students from being arrested for minor misconduct and requires the Officer to provide a report to the District any time the Officer becomes involved in an incident at a school.

The court will retain jurisdiction over the consent order during its implementation, which is expected to last three years, and the Justice Department will monitor the district’s compliance.  For more information, please see this press release .

In this long-standing desegregation case involving the Covington County (Mississippi) School District, the Section had concerns about the district’s two virtually one-race schools, how the district’s staff assignment and school construction have reinforced those two virtually one-race schools, and the district’s use of race in extracurricular activities and awards (to include race-based homecoming queens). Despite the fact that the district overall enrolled about half-black students and half-white students, the district nevertheless maintained one virtually one-race black elementary school, Hopewell (grades K-6), and one virtually one-race white attendance center, Seminary (grades K-12), that enrolled over 60% of all of the white students in the district. Hopewell is the only school in the district without a neighborhood middle or high school. Upon graduating from Hopewell, Hopewell students attended grades 7-12 at a majority black middle and high school (ranked passing and Level III in academic achievement by the state) about 10-12 minutes by bus from Seminary (ranked highest achieving and Level V in academic achievement by the state). The district and the Section engaged in good-faith negotiations about these and other issues, but were not able to develop a mutually satisfactory agreement.

On November 25, 2003, the Section filed a motion requesting further relief and a memorandum of law in support of that motion. In its filings, the Section asked the district court to order the school district to develop a new desegregation plan that would address vestiges of segregation in student assignment, staff assignment, school construction, and extracurricular activities.

On April 28, 2005, the United States filed a motion for partial summary judgment, challenging the district’s race-based extracurricular activities. The district then agreed to enter into a Consent Decree that required it to cease any practices utilizing a student’s race, color, or national origin in the selection or eligibility for participation in any extracurricular activity and to develop written racially non-discriminatory extracurricular activity policies.

On March 8, 2006, after additional discovery and extensive settlement discussions, the district and the United States entered into a Consent Decree resolving the remaining issues in the case. As a result of this Consent Decree, the district made the following modifications, among others, to its existing desegregation plan for the following school year: (1) all students attending Hopewell for grades K-6 will attend Seminary for grades 7-12, thereby eventually desegregating Seminary for grades 7-12; (2) the district committed to publicize its Majority-to-Minority transfer program; (3) the district committed to implement a compensatory enrichment program at Hopewell (a pre-K program) with the primary purpose to “enhance education” at Hopewell and the secondary purpose to “encourage white students who reside in other attendance zones” to attend Hopewell; (4) the district is required to conduct a facilities organization study and to submit all plans for construction and renovation to the United States prior to commencing any construction and renovation at Seminary; and (5) the district is required to engage in a comprehensive analysis of the bus routes for Hopewell students in order to reduce the length of all such bus routes to the extent practicable.

This longstanding school desegregation case was initiated by the United States in 1970.  On February 21, 2018, the United States and the Jackson County School Board filed a  joint motion for declaration of partial unitary status and sought court approval of a stipulation  governing faculty and staff recruitment, hiring, and promotion, and student discipline.  On February 23, 2018,  the court granted the parties’ motion , declaring that the school district had achieved partial unitary status with respect to student assignment between schools, transportation, facilities, and extracurricular activities.  The court also approved the parties’ stipulation regarding faculty and staff recruitment, hiring, and promotion, and student discipline and will retain jurisdiction over these areas.  For more information, please see this press release .

This school desegregation lawsuit was initiated by the United States on June 8, 1966. In a decree dated August 1, 1969, the Court ordered a desegregation plan for the district's schools, subsequently modified by a 1970 order and 1971 consent decree . Pursuant to a Fifth Circuit Decision , dated July 13, 1979, the public laboratory schools at Grambling State University and Louisiana Tech University were added to the case. A 1984 consent decree addressed the desegregation obligations of the lab schools. In 2011, following a unitary status review, the Department of Justice submitted a status report to the Court identifying areas of noncompliance by the defendants. The school board filed responses to the status report on September 15, 2011 and October 15, 2011 . Grambling State University and Louisiana Tech University each filed responses on October 17, 2011. Following negotiations, the Department of Justice and the school board submitted a superseding consent order , approved by the Court on May 24, 2012, which granted the Board partial unitary status in the areas of faculty, staff, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. The superseding consent order required the board to implement a school pairing plan to desegregate the four K-5 elementary schools in the board's Ruston attendance zone and to implement revised intra-district student transfer policies. For additional information on the superseding consent order, please see this press release .

On June 2, 2015, the Court approved a supplemental consent order , in which the Board agreed to address the Division's concerns regarding the Board's classroom assignment practices at the four elementary schools located in the Ruston attendance zone. Under the supplemental consent order, the Board will implement the following key changes at the four elementary schools: (1) assign students to homerooms so that the percentage of black and white students in each homeroom reflects the percentage of black and white students in each grade level at each school; (2) refrain from grouping students into homerooms based on students' perceived abilities and ensure that students of all academic levels are assigned to each homeroom; (3) ensure that no homeroom class has more than forty percent special education inclusion students; and (4) transform the Advanced Learning Academy ("ALA") program into a school-wide, racially diverse enrichment program designed to develop the gifts and talents of all students (if the Board chooses to continue operating the ALA program). For additional information on the supplemental consent order, please see this press release .

In 2002 and 2003, private plaintiffs brought suits against the he Lowndes County school district asserting non-compliance with its desegregation obligations, primarily in West Lowndes, an almost all-black area of the district, pursuant to a pursuant to a desegregation order that the district has been operating under since 1970. In 2004, these complaints were consolidated with the United States’ case, and in January 2006, the Court signed a consent order requiring the district to make significant changes to further desegregation. The district was to make improvements to the virtually all-black high school to make them comparable to the majority white high schools including district requirements to: purchase land adjacent to the West Lowndes High School and build a baseball field, upgrade facilities at the virtually all-black high school to make them comparable to the majority white high schools, create band and football practice fields at the virtually all-black high school, remedy short-comings at the virtually all-black elementary and middle schools including upgrading certain classrooms, renovating an auditorium/gymnasium, and removing unseemly sewage lagoons on these premises, implement educational programming at the West Lowndes Middle and High Schools to foster future AP and advanced classes at the high school, teaching advanced classes (AP) on par with the array of course offerings at the majority white schools even if only requested by one child, and to cease using race-conscious policies in the selection of extracurricular activities such as class superlatives and homecoming courts.

In 2007, the Section determined the district was not in compliance with the 2006 order. Nonetheless, on August 21, 2008, the District filed a motion for unitary status. The Section opposed the district’s motion and moved to enforce the 2006 order on the grounds the district: (1) failed to built a baseball facility as ordered (2) failed to install facilities improvements properly resulting in leaks at the entryway to the building; (3) failed to develop policies and procedures related to advanced instruction; and (4) failed to recognize continued complaints of racial harassment and discrimination by community in the district’s majority white schools. On October 15, 2008, the parties withdrew their motions, initiated negotiations, and on February 3, 2009, the court entered a consent order requiring the district to repair the baseball field and entryway at the virtually-all-black high school, develop and support an advanced instruction curriculum (AP) at the virtually-all-black middle school and high school, and adopt and implement a non-discrimination policy to systemically address continued community and parent concerns.

In 1978, the United States sued the Marion County School District (Florida) for maintaining a segregated school system. In 1983, the district court approved a Stipulated Agreement of the parties that, among other things, implemented a plan for further desegregation of the district, including the conversion of two de jure and almost 100% black schools into a district-wide magnet. Since that time, the court entered a decree in 1995 and a modified decree in 2004 to resolve the outstanding desegregation issues. The 2004 modified decree clarified the requirements in the 1995 decree and set forth detailed provisions regarding student assignment (including a policy on out-of-area transfers), the magnet schools, new school construction, staff assignment and recruitment, and the district's reporting obligations.

After finding noncompliance with the extant desegregation order in this case, the Division negotiated a settlement agreement with the district in 2001. In 2003, the school district moved for unitary status and dismissal of the case despite its noncompliance with the 2001 agreement. The Division filed an opposition to the motion on grounds of noncompliance. Following briefing on the issues, the parties negotiated a new agreement that required the district to take specified steps in the areas of student and faculty assignment. Under the agreement , the district agreed to establish a magnet program at a historically black school, to strictly enforce its student transfer policies, and to assign faculty and staff in a way that does not perpetuate the historic racial identifiability of the district's schools. In 2007, the district again moved for unitary status. The Division filed an opposition and a motion for further relief on the grounds that the district had failed to comply with the portions of the 2003 agreement pertaining to transfer policies and faculty assignment.

On July 21, 1966, the United States initiated this lawsuit against the Richland Parish School District.  On July 31, 1969, the Court entered a decree setting forth a plan to desegregate the school district.   In 2010, the United States with the cooperation of the School Board began a comprehensive review of the School Board’s compliance with its obligations under the operative court orders in this case.   Upon completion of its review, the United States concluded that the School Board satisfied the requirements for unitary status with respect to facilities, extracurricular activities, and transportation.  On March 17, 2013, the Court granted the District’s c onsent order declaring partial unitary status and dismissal in the areas of facilities, transportation and extracurricular activities.  The parties continue to negotiate the remaining areas of student assignment, faculty, and staff.

This longstanding desegregation case was filed by the United States in 1970.  On August 14, 1970, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division, issued an order requiring the District to adopt and implement a school desegregation plan.  On August 17, 1971, the Court amended its previous desegregation order and required the District to implement a student assignment plan in accordance with the principles established in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Bd. of Educ., 402 U.S. 1 (1970), and to follow provisions regarding faculty desegregation, transportation, school construction and site selection, student transfers, and extracurricular activities.  On May 7, 1980, the Court removed the case from its active civil docket but the District remained subject to the 1971 Order, including its reporting obligations.  On October 26, 2016, the Court entered an order granting the parties’ Joint Motion for Declaration of Partial Unitary Status and for Approval of Stipulation regarding Faculty and Staff Recruiting .  The order declares the District partially unitary with respect to student assignment, including student transfers, facilities, transportation, and extracurricular activities.  In addition, the order approves the Parties’ Stipulation Regarding Faculty and Staff Recruitment .  The Section is monitoring compliance with the 2016 Order and Stipulation.

In this longstanding school desegregation case, the district court entered an order on December 18, 2014, approving the proposed consent order jointly submitted by the United States and the Suffolk City School Board. The consent order modified the School Board's student assignment plan by establishing zone lines for a new elementary school and implementing a voluntary majority-to-minority ("M-to-M") transfer program that furthers desegregation in the district. On March 20, 2017, the district court approved a subsequent consent order that declares the district has achieved partial unitary status in the areas of facilities, extracurricular activities, transportation, and faculty and staff assignment. The consent order retains judicial supervision over the area of student assignment--including the implementation and expansion of the M-to-M program, anticipated changes to school attendance zones, and student disciplinary practices--through the 2019-20 school year. For more information, please see this press release .

The United States filed this school desegregation case in 1980.  The Court entered a Consent Order shortly thereafter on February 8, 1980.  On April 17, 1980, the Court approved the District’s Desegregation Plan, which went into effect for the 1981-1982 school year and was subsequently modified with the Court’s approval in 1992, 2002, 2010, and 2015.  In the fall of 2017, the District proposed a new student assignment plan for elementary and middle schools called “Focus 2018.”  On April 30, 2018, the parties filed a joint motion and stipulation to obtain court approval of Focus 2018 and address the School Board’s forthcoming steps to further desegregation in other areas of the case.  On June 7, 2018, the Court approved the new plan and the stipulation, which required the parties to identify agreed upon action steps regarding the other areas by August 31, 2018.  On that date, the parties filed a joint motion and stipulation regarding consent decree compliance.  On September 4, 2018, the Court approved this second stipulation , which requires the District to further desegregation by ensuring non-discrimination in student discipline, equitable student transportation, and continued review of high school programs and student enrollment practices.  The stipulation also established monitoring and reporting requirements to promote District compliance with the Consent Order.

On July 15, 2015, the United States sent its findings  to the State of Georgia stating that the State’s administration of the Georgia Network of Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) program violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers in school.  The State fails to ensure that students with behavior-related disabilities receive services and supports that could enable them to remain in, or return to, the most integrated educational placements appropriate to their needs.

On August 23, 2016, the United States filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia in federal district court to remedy violations of the ADA pertaining to the State’s failure to provide thousands of public school students with behavior-related disabilities with appropriate mental health and therapeutic educational services and supports in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. The lawsuit alleges that, as a result of the manner in which Georgia plans, funds, administers, and delivers its mental health and therapeutic educational services through the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support Program (“GNETS Program”), students with disabilities are unnecessarily segregated and provided unequal educational opportunities in GNETS Centers and Classrooms, where they are isolated from their non-disabled peers, when they could be served in general education classrooms. The lawsuit further alleges that other students with behavior-related disabilities are placed at serious risk of segregation in the GNETS Program.  For more information, please see this press release .

In this desegregation case, the Section determined the McComb Municipal Separate School District had violated the terms of the governing desegregation order and federal law by clustering white students into particular classrooms in a manner resulted in a significant number of segregated, all-black classrooms at the District’s two elementary schools. Additionally, the District was impermissibly using raced-based procedures to select students for certain school-sponsored accolades, including McComb High School’s homecoming queen and court. These procedures had the effect of establishing separate elections for black and white candidates.

In March 2004, the district moved for unitary status. The United States filed a response and a motion for further relief . After discovery, the United States filed an opposition to the District’s motion for unitary status, which stated the United States' objections to unitary status in the areas of student assignment and extracurricular activities, but stipulated to unitary status and dismissal in the areas of transportation, hiring of faculty and administrators, facilities, and resource management. On July 13, 2006, the Court held a hearing to address the areas of dispute. The Court issued a memorandum opinion and order on April 18, 2008, that denied the district’s motion for unitary status and ordered the district to devise an assignment policy that results in meaningful racial interaction for all of the students attending the two elementary schools in question. To execute the requirements of the Court’s order, the court entered a consent decree on September 18, 2008, negotiated by the parties that establishes protocols for student assignment at the two elementary schools and establishes voting procedures for McComb High School’s homecoming court.

The Simpson County School District is under a desegregation order and a 1983 Consent Decree specifically governing employment procedures. The District moved for unitary status in November 2001, and the United States thereafter participated in discovery to evaluate the district's progress toward complete desegregation. The United States learned in March 2003 that the District was not following the specific hiring procedures mandated by the 1983 Consent Decree. To address allegations of racial discrimination in employment, the Consent Decree requires the District actively to recruit black applicants for faculty and administrative positions and to do so by advertising all such vacancies outside the district in regional newspapers and with various universities in the state. The District, however, followed a policy of advertising vacancies first within the District and then outside the district only if no qualified applicants were found within. The United States learned that the District sought to fill three vacancies in principal positions this past winter following that practice rather than the procedures mandated by the Consent Decree. Because the District employed no black personnel with the administrative certification necessary for the positions, the District made the positions available only to white persons and considered no black applicants for the job. The practice therefore contravened the purpose of the 1983 Consent Decree, and the United States filed a motion with a supporting memorandum in April 2003 and a reply to enforce the employment procedures detailed therein. A hearing was held on the motion in July 2003, and the court subsequently granted the United States' motion. The court's order required the District to reopen the three principal positions for the 2004-05 school year and to advertise the vacancies according to the requirements of the Consent Decree. Subsequently, the district moved for unitary status and we opposed. The court ruled in our favor and the district has appealed.

In this longstanding desegregation case, the Wayne County School District is subject to several court orders prohibiting the use of race in classroom assignment decisions and inter-district student transfers that impede the desegregation of the district's schools. In an August 10, 1970 order, the court ordered the district to adopt a desegregation plan, which was modified by several subsequent orders. On May 16, 2006, the court approved a consent order, which declared the district partially unitary in the areas of faculty assignment, staff assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. The 2006 consent order required the district to address the impermissible use of race in classroom assignment decisions at Waynesboro Elementary School (WES). On August 8, 2008, the court approved a consent order increasing the district's reporting requirements. In 2011, the United States notified the District of its determination that WES officials continued to use race as a factor in classroom assignment decisions and that white students residing in a majority-black attendance zone were impermissibly transferring to schools in a majority-white zone. To address these issues, the parties agreed to a consent order , approved by the court on January 3, 2012, requiring the district to adopt a random assignment system for classroom assignment at WES and to take steps to stop impermissible student transfers.

In December of 2009, the Section received a complaint from the Asian American Legal Defense Fund (AALDEF) on behalf of community advocates and Asian students at South Philadelphia High School (SPHS) in Philadelphia, PA that alleged numerous instances of national origin discrimination. This discrimination took many forms, including indifferent reaction to persistent verbal and physical peer harassment of Asian students. This discrimination culminated in one well-publicized instance where Asian students were violently attacked by their peers in and around school grounds. These attacks led to roughly a dozen Asian students being sent to the hospital, twenty-two suspension hearings and the transfer of several students to disciplinary or other schools.

After a lengthy investigation the United States filed a complaint and settlement agreement against the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission on December 15, 2010. The United States alleged violations of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act stemming from defendants’ failure to ameliorate the hostile environment for Asian students at SPHS, and further charged that defendants violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution due to their deliberate indifference to known instances of severe and pervasive harassment. The settlement agreement obliges defendants to develop an action plan to remedy the transgressions alleged in the United States’ complaint. The Section, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, is currently monitoring the defendants’ performance under the action plan to ensure that there is no recurrence of the events that gave rise to the complaint.

In this school construction case, the Section investigated the school district's plans to build a new elementary school in a particular section of Tunica County, Mississippi. This district has a majority black population, and concerns were raised that the proposed school would serve primarily white students and would cause further housing segregation in the county.

Because the school district was under order to desegregate its schools, the district had to obtain the court's approval for its plan. The Section submitted a brief providing the relevant legal standards for evaluating both the need for a new school and the appropriateness of the proposed location. Shortly thereafter, the parties entered into a consent order . As a result of the November 29, 1999 consent order, the District’s new elementary school was built two miles south of the originally proposed location, at a site that is closer to existing black communities.

In the course of reviewing the West Carroll Parish school district's compliance with its desegregation orders, the Section identified zone jumping within the district and student transfers from outside of the district. As a result, the United States negotiated Agreed Modifications to the Residency Verification and Transfer Provisions of the 1991 Consent Order , which were approved by the Court on August 11, 2003. The Section continues to monitor the district’s compliance with these strengthened transfer obligations and the elimination of its race-based homecoming election practices.

To address the persistence of three virtually all white schools and two other racially identifiable schools in this eight-school district, the Section proposed five student assignment plans to further school desegregation. The district rejected the proposed plans, and the Section filed a motion for further relief on November 29, 2005. The United States argued that the district never desegregated these three white schools and that the pre- Swann desegregation plan implemented by the district falls short of eliminating the vestiges of discrimination to the extent practicable. The district filed an opposition, which also served as a motion for unitary status, and the Section filed a reply .

On December 22, 2006, the United States filed a motion for summary judgment , arguing that the evidence obtained in discovery established that the district had failed to eliminate its one-race schools to the extent practicable. The district moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it had achieved unitary status in the area of student assignment to schools. The United States filed an opposition to the district's motion on January 12, 2007, and a reply in support of its own motion on January 26, 2007. On February 14, 2007, the court issued a ruling granting the United States' summary judgment motion and denying that of the district. The court found that the district had failed to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination to the extent practicable and ordered that the trial set for February 26, 2007, proceed to consider an appropriate student assignment plan. In lieu of going to trial, the district and the United States reached agreement on a new desegregation plan in a three-year consent order , which the court approved on March 21, 2007.

On April 10, 2012, the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) reached a resolution agreement with the University of California, San Diego ("UCSD"), in San Diego, Calif., to resolve an investigation into complaints of racial harassment against African-American students on campus.

The investigation and settlement focused on multiple incidents beginning in February 2010, including public displays of nooses and a Ku Klux Klan-style hood, and the hosting of an off-campus party where students were invited to dress as stereotypes of African-Americans, as well as UCSD's response to the incidents. Following DOJ's and OCR's investigation, UCSD voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement with the departments.

Under the terms of the resolution agreement, UCSD will take steps to prevent racial harassment on campus, respond appropriately to harassment that occurs, and eliminate any hostile environment resulting from harassment. The university has agreed to revise its campus policies and procedures related to racial harassment to ensure they are consistent with federal civil rights laws; maintain an Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints of harassment and discrimination; and provide mandatory trainings for staff and students on the university's anti-discrimination policies and procedures. The university also voluntarily initiated a number of additional programs to address campus climate issues, and the departments will monitor the implementation of those programs to evaluate their impact on resolving the departments' concerns. For more information, please see this press release .

On May 1, 2012, the Civil Rights Division formally launched a Title IX compliance review and Title IV investigation of the University of Montana-Missoula's (the University) handling of student reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment. That same day, the Division launched a companion investigation of the University's campus police under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Section 14141), and the anti-discrimination provisions of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (Safe Streets Act). See May 1, 2012 Press Release .

Shortly thereafter, the Division combined its Title IX compliance review with one initiated by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Title IX and Title IV both prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs. After conducting numerous interviews and an extensive review of the University's policies, grievance procedures, investigative practices, training, and responses to reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation, the Division and OCR identified a number of areas where the University needed to take further steps to ensure compliance with Title IX and Title IV.

On May 9, 2013, the Division and OCR reached a resolution agreement with the University to resolve their findings under Title IX and Title IV, and the Division reached a separate agreement to resolve its findings under Section 14141 and the Safe Streets Act. Under the terms of the Title IX-Title IV agreement , the University agreed to take significant, additional steps to: prevent sexual harassment and assault; to respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and retaliation; and to fully eliminate the effects of the hostile environment resulting from such harassment. These steps include: adopting revised policies and procedures for handling sex-based discrimination complaints, conducting training for all employees and students, disseminating information more clearly and broadly about how to report sexual harassment and assault, conducting annual climate surveys to assess students' knowledge of these issues and any barriers to their reporting, and evaluating the effect of the Agreement's remedies over time to ensure that they are effective. The Division and OCR will carefully monitor the University's implementation of the Agreement to ensure that the relief it provides reaches students quickly.

On December 5, 2014, the Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney’s Office, New Mexico, formally launched a Title IX compliance review and Title IV investigation of the University of New Mexico's (the University) handling of student reports of sexual assault. Title IX and Title IV both prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs. After conducting numerous interviews and an extensive review of the University's policies, grievance procedures, investigative practices, training, and responses to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment, DOJ issued a Letter of Findings on April 16, 2016 which identified a number of areas where the University needed to take further steps to ensure compliance with Title IX and Title IV.

On October 17, 2016, DOJ reached an agreement with the University to resolve their findings under Title IX and Title IV. Under the terms of the Title IX-Title IV agreement, the University agreed to take significant, additional steps to: prevent sexual harassment and assault; to respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault; and to fully eliminate the effects of the hostile environment resulting from such harassment. These steps include: adopting revised policies and procedures for handling complaints of sexual harassment, conducting training for all students and responsible employees, disseminating information more clearly and broadly about how to report sexual harassment and assault, conducting annual climate surveys to assess students' knowledge of these issues and any barriers to their reporting, and evaluating the effect of the Agreement's remedies over time to ensure that they are effective. DOJ will carefully monitor the University's implementation of the Agreement to ensure that the relief it provides reaches students quickly. For more information, please see this press release .

In this matter involving the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), Tennessee, the Department investigated a complaint alleging, in part, that UTHSC violated of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131, et seq ., by failing to reasonably modify policies, practices, and procedures when it employed a threat assessment process and placed a student on a mandatory medical leave of absence from her academic program because of her mental health condition without first considering accommodations to facilitate her continued enrollment.  On July 22, 2016, the Department and UTHSC entered into a Settlement Agreement that prohibits the university from discriminating against any person on the basis of disability and from excluding any person with a disability from participation in or benefiting from its services, programs, or activities.  In addition, the Agreement requires UTHSC to change its leave and withdrawal policies, and provide annual ADA training to faculty and staff.  UTHSC also must ensure that the process it uses to evaluate a student’s request for accommodation or reasonable modification of policies is conducted independently from other campus administrative or discipline processes, and that any threat assessment involving a student with a disability is supported by an appropriate factual record and based on legitimate safety concerns, and not on speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about persons with disabilities.  Finally, the Agreement allows the complainant to recover $45,000 in compensation, and requires UTHSC to amend the student's academic record; destroy specified documents, including the complainant’s medical records; and take other steps to remedy the alleged discrimination.

After learning of allegations that Utah State University (the “University”) failed to respond to numerous reports of serious student-on-student sexual assault, the Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah (collectively, the “United States”) initiated a Title IX compliance review of the University.  The United States reviewed the University’s response(s) to sexual assault and harassment complaint(s) over a more than four-year period.  After conducting numerous interviews and an extensive review of the University’s policies, grievance procedures, training, student education efforts, and responses to reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation, the United States identified areas of noncompliance with Title IX.

On February 12, 2020, the United States reached a settlement agreement with the University to address the areas of noncompliance.  Under the terms of the agreement, the University agreed to take significant steps including, among others: revising its notice of nondiscrimination and relevant sexual harassment policies, procedures, and practices; responding promptly, equitably, and adequately to known sexual harassment that has created a hostile environment; and training students and employees on University policies and federal laws pertaining to sexual harassment, how and to whom they can report allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation, the resources available and how to access them, and the University’s Title IX grievance procedures and potential outcomes.  The United States will carefully monitor the University’s implementation of the agreement, which will remain in place through the 2022-2023 academic year.  For more information, please see the press release .  On July 28, 2020, the United States executed a letter agreement with the University, extending the deadlines in the original settlement agreement.

On January 13, 2003, the Westfield High School L.I.F.E. Club and some of its student members filed a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction, alleging that the Westfield Public Schools and officials discriminated against their religious beliefs by refusing to allow them to distribute pamphlets containing a religious message, even though defendants permitted the distribution of secular pamphlets by these same students the year before. The plaintiffs alleged that this violated their rights to freedom of speech under the First Amendment, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and their rights to equal protection under the laws pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.

The United States filed a motion to participate as amicus curiae in this matter, as the United States is charged with enforcement of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes the Attorney General to seek relief if a school deprives students of the equal protections of the laws. The Court granted the United States' motion on February 26, 2003.

The United States filed a brief in support of plaintiffs' preliminary injunction. The United States argued that the school's restrictions on plaintiffs' speech violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments proscribing government regulations of speech that discriminate against a particular point of view – here a religious viewpoint.

On March 17, 2003, the Court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, enjoining defendants from prohibiting the students and the L.I.F.E. Club from distributing literature to fellow students, during non-instructional time, based on the content of the literature.

On June 16, 2003, the Court entered a Consent Decree in which the district agreed to use a revised Free Speech Policy and not to impose any prior restraints upon the plaintiffs to distribute literature unless the distribution failed to comply with the policy.

In this matter involving the Westminster Public Schools, the Section and the District of Colorado USAO examined whether the District was identifying and serving its English Learner (“EL”) students in compliance with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (“EEOA”).   EL students comprise approximately 46% of the District’s student population.  On February 27, 2018, the District and the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement to resolve the District’s noncompliance with the EEOA and ensure that EL students receive the support they need to succeed in the District’s educational programs.  Under the agreement, the District will: identify and place EL students appropriately when they enroll in school; ensure that all ELs, including those with disabilities, receive adequate language services so that they can become proficient in English; provide ELs with access to appropriate grade-level content within the District’s Competency Based System; train teachers and administrators who implement the EL program adequately; monitor the academic performance of current, former, and long-term EL students; evaluate the effectiveness of the EL program over time; and ensure meaningful communication with Limited English Proficient parents about District and school programs and activities.  The parties anticipate that the agreement will remain in place for three full school years.

On August 31, 2015, the Division formally launched a Title IX investigation and compliance review of Wheaton College after receiving a complaint regarding the College’s handling of a student’s report of sexual assault.  The Division reviewed the College’s response to sexual assault and harassment complaints over an approximately three and a half-year period.  After conducting numerous interviews and an extensive review of the College’s policies, grievance procedures, investigative practices, training, student education efforts, and responses to reports of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation, the Division identified areas where the College needed to take further steps to ensure compliance with Title IX and its regulations. On September 21, 2106, the Division reached a settlement agreement with the College to address these areas and bring it into compliance.  Under the terms of the agreement, the College agreed to take significant, additional steps to: prevent sexual harassment and assault; respond promptly and effectively to reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and retaliation; and fully eliminate the effects of the hostile environment resulting from such harassment.  These steps include, among others: revising its policies, procedures, and investigative practices to ensure the prompt and equitable resolution of sexual assault and harassment allegations; adequately investigating and responding to allegations of retaliation by students who reported sexual harassment or assault; taking sufficient action to fully eliminate sex-based hostile environments; and adequately training individuals designated to coordinate its Title IX efforts. The Division will carefully monitor the College’s implementation of the agreement, which will remain in place for at least three school years.  For more information, please see this press release.

In this matter involving the Wicomico County Public School District in Maryland, the Section conducted an investigation into complaints that the District’s student discipline policies resulted in the discriminatory suspension of black and Latino students and students with disabilities, in violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000c et seq., which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, or religion in public schools and institutions of higher education, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and its implementing regulations, 28 C.F.R. Part 35, which prohibits discrimination based on disability in services, programs and activities provided by State and local government entities.

After the investigation, the United States and the District negotiated and entered a voluntary out-of-court settlement agreement on January 19, 2017. Under the settlement agreement, the district will take steps to create positive and inclusive learning environments in all Wicomico County schools, including by timely responding to requests for reasonable modifications to District disciplinary policies, practices and procedures; providing students with supports and interventions before excluding them from school; limiting the use of discipline measures that remove students from the classroom; ensuring that discipline consequences are fair and consistent; establishing clear guidelines for when law enforcement intervention and other emergency response measures are appropriate; providing training to give teachers and administrators the tools necessary to manage their schools in a safe, effective and positive manner; and building data-driven monitoring and accountability systems.

In this matter involving the Worcester, Massachusetts public school system, the Section conducted a review to determine whether the district was providing appropriate instruction and services to English Language Learner ("ELL") students as required by the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 ("EEOA"). After determining that the school district was not complying with the requirements of the EEOA, the United States entered into an out-of-court settlement agreement with the school district on January 26, 2009. Under this agreement, the school district agreed to take the following steps, among others, to: establish protocols for registration and identification; train faculty and intake staff concerning proper data entry for tracking; ensure timely, adequate and appropriate ELL services; provide translation services for parents and guardians, train ELL teachers, provide appropriate materials for ELL classes, ensure special education students are not denied appropriate ELL services, and monitor current and exited ELLs.

On July 10, 2012, the United States entered into a supplemental agreement with the school district that addressed, among other things, the school district's duty to: adequately test students for English language proficiency; properly train personnel involved in the identification and registration of ELLs; monitor and track the academic achievement of former ELLs; and ensure that classroom instruction provided to ELLs is delivered by teachers who are qualified to teach ELLs. After determining that the school district was still not in compliance with the 2008 and 2012 Agreements, the United States entered into a comprehensive second supplemental agreement with the district on July 11, 2016.  The 2016 agreement replaces the 2008 Settlement Agreement and 2012 Supplemental Agreement and aims to address, among other issues: inadequate ESL and sheltered content instruction for ELLs, the need for more qualified ESL and sheltered content teachers, services and procedures for ELLs with disabilities, and insufficient translations and qualified interpreters for LEP parents.

Studies find evidence of systemic racial discrimination across multiple domains in the United States

Head shot of Sara Bleich

Harvard Pop Center faculty member Sara Bleich and her colleagues have published two studies examining experiences of racial discrimination in the United States.

One study found substantial black-white disparities in experiences of discrimination in the U.S. spanning multiple domains including health care, employment, and law enforcement, while a separate study found similar discrimination among Latinos in the United States. Given the connection between racial discrimination and poor health outcomes in both groups of Americans, the study calls for more interventions to address broad racial discrimination.

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case studies on discrimination

  • 02 Jan 2024
  • Cold Call Podcast

Should Businesses Take a Stand on Societal Issues?

Should businesses take a stand for or against particular societal issues? And how should leaders determine when and how to engage on these sensitive matters? Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Hubert Joly, who led the electronics retailer Best Buy for almost a decade, discusses examples of corporate leaders who had to determine whether and how to engage with humanitarian crises, geopolitical conflict, racial justice, climate change, and more in the case, “Deciding When to Engage on Societal Issues.”

case studies on discrimination

  • 21 Nov 2023

Cold Call: Building a More Equitable Culture at Delta Air Lines

In December 2020 Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian and his leadership team were reviewing the decision to join the OneTen coalition, where he and 36 other CEOs committed to recruiting, hiring, training, and advancing one million Black Americans over the next ten years into family-sustaining jobs. But, how do you ensure everyone has equal access to opportunity within an organization? Professor Linda Hill discusses Delta’s decision and its progress in embedding a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion in her case, “OneTen at Delta Air Lines: Catalyzing Family-Sustaining Careers for Black Talent.”

case studies on discrimination

  • 31 Oct 2023
  • Research & Ideas

Beyond the 'Business Case' in DEI: 6 Steps Toward Meaningful Change

Diversity and inclusion efforts that focus on business outcomes alone rarely address root causes. Jamillah Bowman Williams, a visiting fellow at the Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society, offers tips for companies navigating their next stage of the DEI journey.

case studies on discrimination

  • 24 Oct 2023

When Tech Platforms Identify Black-Owned Businesses, White Customers Buy

Demand for Black-owned restaurants rises when they're easier to find on Yelp. Research by Michael Luca shows how companies can mobilize their own technology to advance racial equity.

case studies on discrimination

  • 16 Oct 2023

Advancing Black Talent: From the Flight Ramp to 'Family-Sustaining' Careers at Delta

By emphasizing skills and expanding professional development opportunities, the airline is making strides toward recruiting and advancing Black employees. Case studies by Linda Hill offer an inside look at how Delta CEO Ed Bastian is creating a more equitable company and a stronger talent pipeline.

case studies on discrimination

  • 10 Oct 2023

In Empowering Black Voters, Did a Landmark Law Stir White Angst?

The Voting Rights Act dramatically increased Black participation in US elections—until worried white Americans mobilized in response. Research by Marco Tabellini illustrates the power of a political backlash.

case studies on discrimination

  • 26 Sep 2023

Unpacking That Icky Feeling of 'Shopping' for Diverse Job Candidates

Many companies want to bring a wider variety of lived experiences to their workforces. However, research by Summer Jackson shows how hiring managers' fears of seeming transactional can ultimately undermine their diversity goals.

case studies on discrimination

  • 08 Aug 2023

Black Employees Not Only Earn Less, But Deal with Bad Bosses and Poor Conditions

More than 900,000 reviews highlight broad racial disparities in the American working experience. Beyond pay inequities, research by Letian Zhang shows how Black employees are less likely to work at companies known for positive cultures or work-life balance.

case studies on discrimination

  • 18 Jul 2023

Diversity and Inclusion at Mars Petcare: Translating Awareness into Action

In 2020, the Mars Petcare leadership team found themselves facing critically important inclusion and diversity issues. Unprecedented protests for racial justice in the U.S. and across the globe generated demand for substantive change, and Mars Petcare's 100,000 employees across six continents were ready for visible signs of progress. How should Mars’ leadership build on their existing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and effectively capitalize on the new energy for change? Harvard Business School associate professor Katherine Coffman is joined by Erica Coletta, Mars Petcare’s chief people officer, and Ibtehal Fathy, global inclusion and diversity officer at Mars Inc., to discuss the case, “Inclusion and Diversity at Mars Petcare.”

case studies on discrimination

  • 01 Jun 2023

A Nike Executive Hid His Criminal Past to Turn His Life Around. What If He Didn't Have To?

Larry Miller committed murder as a teenager, but earned a college degree while serving time and set out to start a new life. Still, he had to conceal his record to get a job that would ultimately take him to the heights of sports marketing. A case study by Francesca Gino, Hise Gibson, and Frances Frei shows the barriers that formerly incarcerated Black men are up against and the potential talent they could bring to business.

case studies on discrimination

  • 31 May 2023

Why Business Leaders Need to Hear Larry Miller's Story

VIDEO: Nike executive Larry Miller concealed his criminal past to get a job. What if more companies were willing to hire people with blemishes on their records? Hise Gibson explores why business leaders should give the formerly incarcerated a second chance.

case studies on discrimination

From Prison Cell to Nike’s C-Suite: The Journey of Larry Miller

VIDEO: Before leading one of the world’s largest brands, Nike executive Larry Miller served time in prison for murder. In this interview, Miller shares how education helped him escape a life of crime and why employers should give the formerly incarcerated a second chance. Inspired by a Harvard Business School case study.

case studies on discrimination

  • 08 May 2023

How Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Crushed Crowdfunding for Minority Entrepreneurs

When public anxiety about immigration surges, Black, Asian, and Hispanic inventors have a harder time raising funds for new ideas on Kickstarter, says research by William Kerr. What can platforms do to confront bias in entrepreneurial finance?

case studies on discrimination

  • 03 May 2023

Why Confronting Racism in AI 'Creates a Better Future for All of Us'

Rather than build on biased data and technology from the past, artificial intelligence has an opportunity to do better, says Business in Global Society Fellow Broderick Turner. He highlights three myths that prevent business leaders from breaking down racial inequality.

case studies on discrimination

  • 21 Feb 2023

What's Missing from the Racial Equity Dialogue?

Fellows visiting the Institute for the Study of Business in Global Society (BiGS) at Harvard Business School talk about how racism harms everyone and why it’s important to find new ways to support formerly incarcerated people.

case studies on discrimination

  • 31 Jan 2023

Addressing Racial Discrimination on Airbnb

For years, Airbnb gave hosts extensive discretion to accept or reject a guest after seeing little more than a name and a picture, believing that eliminating anonymity was the best way for the company to build trust. However, the apartment rental platform failed to track or account for the possibility that this could facilitate discrimination. After research published by Professor Michael Luca and others provided evidence that Black hosts received less in rent than hosts of other races and showed signs of discrimination against guests with African American sounding names, the company had to decide what to do. In the case, “Racial Discrimination on Airbnb,” Luca discusses his research and explores the implication for Airbnb and other platform companies. Should they change the design of the platform to reduce discrimination? And what’s the best way to measure the success of any changes?

case studies on discrimination

  • 03 Jan 2023

Confront Workplace Inequity in 2023: Dig Deep, Build Bridges, Take Collective Action

Power dynamics tied up with race and gender underlie almost every workplace interaction, says Tina Opie. In her book Shared Sisterhood, she offers three practical steps for dismantling workplace inequities that hold back innovation.

case studies on discrimination

  • 13 Dec 2022

The Color of Private Equity: Quantifying the Bias Black Investors Face

Prejudice persists in private equity, despite efforts to expand racial diversity in finance. Research by Josh Lerner sizes up the fundraising challenges and performance double standards that Black and Hispanic investors confront while trying to support other ventures—often minority-owned businesses.

case studies on discrimination

  • 12 Dec 2022

Buy-In from Black Patients Suffers When Drug Trials Don’t Include Them

Diversifying clinical trials could build trust in new treatments among Black people and their physicians. Research by Joshua Schwartzstein, Marcella Alsan, and colleagues probes the ripple effects of underrepresentation in testing, and offers a call to action for drugmakers.

case studies on discrimination

  • 18 Nov 2022

What Does It Take to Safeguard a Legacy in Asset Management?

Diverse hiring, deep research, and a collaborative culture have defined Brown Capital's successful investment approach. But would those qualities endure after its founder retires? A case study by Luis Viceira and Emily McComb explores how the second-largest Black-founded investment firm is preparing for its next phase.

LGBT People’s Experiences of Workplace Discrimination and Harassment

  • Full Report

Using survey data collected in May 2021, this report examines the lifetime, five-year, and past-year experiences of discrimination among LGBT employees. It is one of the first studies to look at LGBT employment discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the year following Bostock v. Clayton County.

  • Brad Sears Founding Executive Director
  • Christy Mallory Legal Director
  • Andrew R. Flores Affiliated Scholar
  • Kerith J. Conron Research Director

Executive Summary

Over 8 million workers in the U.S. identify as LGBT. 1 Employment discrimination and harassment against LGBT people has been documented in a variety of sources and found to negatively impact employees’ health and wellbeing and to reduce job commitment and satisfaction.  

This report examines experiences of employment discrimination and harassment against LGBT adults using a survey of 935 LGBT adults conducted in May of 2021. Lifetime, five-year, and past-year discrimination were assessed among adults employed as of March 2020—just before many workplaces were forced to shut down because of COVID-19.  

Accordingly, this survey is one of the first to gather in formation about experiences of sexual orientation and gender identity employment discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the year following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County , 2   which held that employment discrimination against LGBT people is prohibited by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 3

Our analysis indicates that employment discrimination against LGBT people continues to be persistent and widespread. Over 40% of LGBT workers (45.5%) reported experiencing unfair treatment at work, including being fired, not hired, or harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity at some point in their lives. This discrimination and harassment is ongoing: nearly one-third (31.1%) of LGBT respondents reported that they experienced discrimination or harassment within the past five years.  

Overall, 8.9% of employed LGBT people reported that they were fired or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year, including 11.3% of LGBT employees of color and 6.5% of white LGBT employees. The percentage was five times as high for those who were out as LGBT to at least some people at work as compared to those who were not out (10.9% compared to 2.2%).  

Over half (57.0%) of LGBT employees who experienced discrimination or harassment at work reported that their employer or co-workers did or said something to indicate that the unfair treatment that they experienced was motivated by religious beliefs. Nearly two-thirds (63.5%) of LGBT employees of color said that religion was a motivating factor in their experiences of workplace discrimination compared to 49.4% of white LGBT employees.  

Many employees also reported engaging in behaviors to avoid discrimination and harassment, including hiding their LGBT identity and changing their physical appearance, and many left their jobs or considered leaving their jobs because of unfair treatment.  

While the key findings of the report are summarized below, the full report includes several quotes from respondents providing more detail about their experiences of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.  

Key Findings

  • One-third (33.2%) of LGBT employees of color and one-quarter (26.3%) of white LGBT employees reported experiencing employment discrimination (being fired or not hired) because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • LGBT employees of color were significantly more likely to report not being hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity than white LGBT employees: 29.0% of LGBT employees of color reported not being hired based on their LGBT status compared to 18.3% of white LGBT employees.  

Transgender 4   employees were also significantly more likely to experience discrimination based on their LGBT status than cisgender LGB employees: Nearly half (48.8%) of transgender employees reported experiencing discrimination (being fired or not hired) based on their LGBT status compared to 27.8% of cisgender LGB employees. More specifically, over twice as many transgender employees reported not being hired (43.9%) because of their LGBT status compared to LGB employees (21.5%).  

  • Beyond being fired or not being hired, respondents also reported other types of unfair treatment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, including not being promoted, not receiving raises, being treated differently than those with different-sex partners, having their schedules changed or reduced, and being excluded from company events.
  • One in five (20.8%) LGBT employees reported experiencing physical harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Reports of physical harassment included being “punched,” “hit,” and ‘beaten up” in the workplace.  
  • LGBT employees of color were significantly more likely to report experiencing verbal harassment (35.6% compared to 25.9%) at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity than white LGBT employees. In addition, transgender employees were significantly more likely to report experiencing verbal harassment over the course of their careers than cisgender LGB employees (43.8% compared to 29.3%). In many cases, the verbal harassment came from employees’ supervisors and co-workers, as well as customers.  
  • One in four (25.9%) LGBT employees reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace because of their sexual orientation and gender identity at some point in their careers. Although transgender employees were not more likely than cisgender employees to report sexual harassment over the course of their careers, they were twice as likely to report recent experiences of sexual harassment: 22.4% reported sexual harassment in the past five years compared to 11.9% of cisgender LGB employees.  
  • Workplace culture: Two-thirds (67.5%) of LGBT employees reported that they have heard negative comments, slurs, or jokes about LGBTQ people at work. Many LGBT people reported being called or hearing words like “f****t,” “queer,” “sissy,” “tranny,” and “dyke” in the workplace.  
  • LGBT people continue to experience workplace discrimination even after the U.S. Supreme Court extended non-discrimination protections to LGBT people nationwide in Bostock v. Clayton County . Nine percent (8.9%) of LGBT employees reported that they were fired or not hired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the past year.  
  • One in ten (11.3%) LGBT employees of color reported experiencing some form of employment discrimination (including being fired or not hired) based on their sexual orientation or gender identity within the past year.
  • Of those employees who experienced discrimination or harassment at some point in their lives, 63.5% of LGBT employees of color said that religion was a motivating factor compared to 49.4% of white LGBT employees.  
  • Those who are out to at least some people in the workplace were three times more likely to report experiences of discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity than those who are not out to anyone in the workplace (53.3% compared to 17.9%).  
  • While approximately 7% of those who are not out to anyone in the workplace reported experiencing verbal (7.4%) or physical (7.4%) harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, of those who are out to at least some people in the workplace, about one in three reported experiencing verbal harassment (37.8%) and one in four (25.0%) reported experiencing physical harassment.  
  • In terms of discrimination in the past year—post- Bostock —those who are out to at least some people in the workplace were five times more likely to report experiencing discrimination (including being fired or not hired) because of their sexual orientation or gender identity than those who are not out to anyone (10.9% compared to 2.2%).  
  • Transgender employees were significantly more likely to engage in covering behaviors than cisgender LGB employees. For example, 36.4% of transgender employees said that they changed their physical appearance and 27.5% said they changed their bathroom use at work compared to 23.3% and 14.9% of cisgender LGB employees.  
  • Retention: One-third (34.2%) of LGBT employees said that they have left a job because of how they were treated by their employer based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

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Related Publications

Lgbt discrimination, subnational public policy, and law in the united states, title vii cases: amicus briefs, legal protections for lgbt people after bostock v. clayton county.

Kerith J. Conron & Shoshana K. Goldberg, Williams Inst., LGBT People in the US Not Protected by State NonDiscrimination Statutes 1 (2020) , https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/lgbt-nondiscrimination-statutes.

140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020).  

42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a).

Participants who selected gender identity response options, including male, female, transgender, and nonbinary, that differed from their sex assigned at birth, were classified as transgender.  

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Article contents

Culture, prejudice, racism, and discrimination.

  • John Baldwin John Baldwin School of Communication, Illinois State University
  • https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.164
  • Published online: 25 January 2017

Prejudice is a broad social phenomenon and area of research, complicated by the fact that intolerance exists in internal cognitions but is manifest in symbol usage (verbal, nonverbal, mediated), law and policy, and social and organizational practice. It is based on group identification (i.e., perceiving and treating a person or people in terms of outgroup membership); but that outgroup can range from the more commonly known outgroups based on race, sex/gender, nationality, or sexual orientation to more specific intolerances of others based on political party, fan status, or membership in some perceived group such as “blonde” or “athlete.” This article begins with the link of culture to prejudice, noting specific culture-based prejudices of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. It then explores the levels at which prejudice might be manifest, finally arriving at a specific focus of prejudice—racism; however, what applies to racism may also apply to other intolerances such as sexism, heterosexism, classism, or ageism.

The discussion and analysis of prejudice becomes complicated when we approach a specific topic like racism, though the tensions surrounding this phenomenon extend to other intolerances such as sexism or heterosexism. Complications include determining the influences that might lead to individual racism or an atmosphere of racism, but also include the very definition of what racism is: Is it an individual phenomenon, or does it refer to an intolerance that is supported by a dominant social structure? Because overt intolerance has become unpopular in many societies, researchers have explored how racism and sexism might be expressed in subtle terms; others investigate how racism intersects with other forms of oppression, including those based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, or colonialism; and still others consider how one might express intolerance “benevolently,” with good intentions though still based on problematic racist or sexist ideologies.

  • discrimination
  • intolerance
  • heterosexism
  • stereotypes
  • ethnocentrism

Introduction

One of the causes that gave rise to the postmodern revolution in France in 1968 was the failure of modern science and philosophy—liberalism, social science, reason, and so on—to remedy problems of war, poverty, and intolerance (Rosenau, 1992 ). As we look around today at the world in general, or even within specific nations, we continue to see a wide range of prejudice, from the 1994 genocide of Tutsis (and many Hutus) by Hutus in Rwanda to the mass killing of 70 people, mostly youths, at a Utøyan youth camp in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik. At this writing, a major refugee problem exists from people fleeing Middle Eastern countries where a strong ISIS influence is leading to the killing of gays, Christians, and Muslims from rival belief systems. In many European countries, hate groups and right-wing politicians are gaining ground. The Southern Poverty Law center tracks 1,600 hate groups within the United States (“Hate and Extremism,” n.d. ), classifying 784 that were active in 2014 (“Hate Map,” n.d. ), and the FBI reports nearly 6,000 hate crimes in the United States, with the greatest numbers due to race (48.5%), religion (17.4%), and sexual orientation (20.8%; FBI, 2014 ). These statistics reveal some interesting things about intolerance. For example, the “race”-based hate crimes include crimes based on anti-white sentiment as well as against people of color; and about 61% of hate crimes based on sexual orientation target gay males.

Both the international events and the statistics relevant to any specific nation prompt difficult questions about intolerance. In a white-dominant society, can or should we call anti-white crimes by people of color “racist”? If someone commits a hate crime based on sexual orientation, why are gay men more often the target than lesbians? Would hate crimes in other countries reflect the same axes of difference, or might hate crimes be based differently? German hate crimes might be based more on ethnicity (e.g., against Turkish immigrants, who by most racial classifications would be Caucasian). Why do people commit such acts at all?

One mistake we often make is thinking of prejudice and discrimination only in extreme terms such as genocide and hate crimes. In many countries and cultures, where overt expression of racism (and other intolerances) has become socially unacceptable, intolerances have gone “underground,” hidden in subtle forms. Further, intolerance can rely upon a wide variety of identity groups, including some that are (supposedly) biologically based, like racism, or based on other aspects, such as political party, fan status, or membership in some perceived group such as “blonde” or “athlete.” In sum, we must consider the relationship between different forms of intolerance, including but not limited to prejudice, racism, and discrimination; but these must always be understood within specific cultural contexts.

Culture and Intolerance

(re)defining culture.

As we look to the cultural influence on intolerance, we must first consider the definition of culture. The study of culture has deep roots in anthropological and linguistic research, especially as seen in the work of Franz Boaz and his students Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Edward Sapir, as well as in the early work of Edward Tyler, itself based on earlier traditions of ethology (Darwin) and social evolution (Marx). This work influenced the work of anthropologist E. T. Hall (Rogers & Hart, 2002 ) and others who laid the groundwork for the study of intercultural communication (Leeds-Hurwitz, 1990 ). Scholars have debated whether culture is a shared mental framework of beliefs, norms for behavior (i.e., the expectations for behavior rather than the behaviors themselves), values, and worldview, or whether culture should also include actual behaviors, texts, and artifacts of a group. In 1952 , A. L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn synthesized over 150 definitions of culture into a single definition that focuses on “patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior,” along with “ideas and especially their attached values” (p. 181). These are influenced and created through symbolic behavior, action, and other aspects of the environment (history, geography). The definitional dimensions of culture described by Kroeber and Kluckhohn explained well many of the definitions of culture up until the 1980s. After that time, some scholars (especially in communication) began to treat culture more as a set of symbols and meanings. Others framed culture as a process of constructing social meanings and systems through communication. As people sing, speak, play, tell jokes, and conduct business, they are constantly (re)creating their culture—both relying upon it and changing it.

More pertinent to the study of intolerance is a new approach to culture that sees culture neither as “suitcase” of things (be those beliefs and values or texts and artifacts) passed down from one generation to the next nor as a neutral process of mutual symbolic creation through time, but as having vested power interests that seek to influence what is seen as accepted or normal within a culture. For example, Moon ( 2002 ) defines culture as a “contested zone”:

Thinking about culture as a contested zone helps us understand the struggles of cultural groups and the complexities of cultural life … If we define culture as a contested zone in which different groups struggle to define issues in their own interests, we must also recognize that not all groups have equal access to public forums to voice their concerns, perspectives, and the everyday realities of their lives” (pp. 15–16).

That is, every cultural manifestation, such as the framing of Australian culture as “individualistic” or saying that “Australian men have such-and-such characteristics,” highlights what one should not be within that culture and establishes bounds for group-based intolerance.

With this diversity of definitions in mind, one is not sure what to think culture is or should be. Baldwin, Faulkner, Hecht, and Lindsley ( 2006 ) present a series of essays on the definition of culture by authors from six different disciplines (e.g., multicultural education, anthropology, political science), as well as 313 definitions of culture from an even greater number of disciplines, which they analyze. While they are reluctant to settle on a single definition of culture, this definition embraces most trends:

The way of life of a group of people, including symbols, values, behaviors, artifacts, and other shared aspects, that continually evolves as people share messages and is often the result of a struggle between groups who share different perspectives, interests, and power relationships (Baldwin, Coleman, González, & Shenoy-Packer, 2014 , p. 55).

This definition of culture, like most definitions that take a symbolic, process, or critical approach, does not treat cultures as “nations,” but as people groups who share symbolic or speech codes, with multiple cultural groups—defined not by demographic constitutions such as race, sex, or age, but by shared communicative realities—sharing single geographic areas. It is in the creation and defending of cultures—from countries to local and virtual communities—that intolerance often becomes apparent.

The Role of Culture in Prejudice

Of various schools of thought about the nature and origins of intolerance, only one approach suggests that intolerance is biological or in some way inherited, and that is sociobiology, or evolutionary theory. This approach suggests that intolerance is based on such things as preservation of the purity of the gene pool of one’s group, an inherent fear of strangers, or an inherited need for group identity. But even evolutionary theorists cannot explain all intolerance based on a theory of inherited impulse. Meyer ( 1987 ) argues:

Xenophobia and ethnocentrism as extreme forms of this search for identity cannot be attributed to [human] biology … Their very existence is a result of [human’s] attempts towards understanding the world, and [their] strong affective need to delimit a cosmos of conspecifics with whom [they] can share interpretations of [their] socially construed world (p. 93).

Research on intolerance in 90 preindustrial societies suggests that, when there are clearly psychological causes for intergroup conflict, groups ultimately use communication to create who the enemy is and how one should demonstrate or show intolerance (Ross, 1991 ). In sum, there is a strong cultural component determining which intolerances are felt or expressed in a given place or time.

Culture, however one defines it, can affect tolerance. Culture might be a set of values and beliefs, such as the value of loyalty to one’s group, combined with a belief that people who belong to a particular group have particular characteristics, are unlikeable for some reason, or merit mistreatment and the application of a different set of standards than we apply to ourselves (Opotow, 1990 ). If culture is a process, then we might look at how a culture creates both identity and intolerance through the ongoing structures of language, including word choices (“babe,” “hunk,” “faggot”), conversational structure (interruptions, etc.), joke- and storytelling, and so on. For example, West and Zimmerman’s ( 1987 ) notion of “doing gender” (i.e., gender as an everyday accomplishment of language) has led to countless studies of gender construction in several nations, as well as a focus by others on how we also “do race” and other identities. The way that we construct our identities through communication is inherently linked to how we construct the identities of those in outgroups, as we shall see; but they are also linked to behavior within our group. Social constructionist approaches to culture thus often become critical in their focus on power relations. Critical approaches look at how cultures, through communication, architecture, law, literature, education, and so on create a sense of the “other”—and of the self—that constrains us and pits us against one another in group conflict.

“Culture”-Based Prejudices: Ethnocentrism, Xenophobia

The purpose of this article is primarily to look at racism and discrimination as forms of prejudice; however, these cannot be understood without a larger understanding of prejudice in general and other forms or types of prejudice. Allport ( 1979 ) defines prejudice as an antipathy one has or a tendency to avoid the other, based on the other person’s group. For Allport, prejudice is a cognitive or psychological phenomenon:

Prejudice is ultimately a problem of personality formation and development; no two cases of prejudice are precisely the same. No individual would mirror his [or her] group’s attitude unless he [or she] had a personal need, or personal habit, that leads him [or her] to do so (p. 41).

Based on the Greek word that means “fear of strangers,” xenophobia refers to “the fear or hatred of anything that is foreign or outside of one’s own group, nation, or culture” (Herbst, 1997 , p. 235). The idea is frequently applied to a mistrust or dislike (rather than merely fear) of outgroups or those perceived to be different, especially in national terms. While the Greek translation suggests the psychological component of fear, recent researchers have treated the concept in behavioral or message terms. Historical research on xenophobia links it to anti-Semitism and, more recently, to Islamophobia, though it does not have as clear a historical trajectory as ethnocentrism; many more recent studies look at South Africa as a model nation in attempting to strategically reduce xenophobia. Researchers use a variety of methods to look at xenophobia, depending on their research assumptions and background disciplines. Rhetorical media research, for example, analyzes how Czech newspapers code anti-Roma sentiment through subtle terms such as “inadaptable citizens” ( nepřízpůsobivý občan , Slavíčková & Zvagulis, 2014 , p. 159); and psychological survey research investigates how, among Southern California students, ethnocentrism is positively associated with both language prejudice and feelings of being threatened by immigrants (Ura, Preston, & Mearns, 2015 ).

Van Dijk ( 1993 ) notes how groups can use language such as hyperbole of differences to marginalize immigrants, often through appeals to so-called democratic values. He notes that in some countries, such as in Central Europe, where claims of racism are often forcefully resisted due to conceptual ties of the term to Hitler’s Holocaust, Ausländerfeindlicheit (fear of foreigners) takes its place, though this fear of foreigners is frequently aimed at Turks and other (often darker-skinned and religiously different) people who resist adoption of traditional Germanic culture.

Ethnocentrism

Some types of prejudice relate specifically to the larger and more traditional notion of culture (i.e., cultures as nations). Ethnocentrism gained prominence as an area of research following sociologist Robert Sumner’s 1906 definition of the term as gauging others in reference to one’s own culture ( 1975 ), though other sociologists soon began to distinguish between this notion of “centrality” and the idea of “superiority”—that one’s culture or group is superior to those of others. If one sees ethnocentrism strictly as a feeling of superiority, nationalism (or school spirit, or religious loyalty, etc.) might not in and of itself be ethnocentric if it focuses only on being loyal to or highlighting the benefits of one’s own group, without denigrating others, though some might argue that it is impossible to feel pride in one’s own group without, at some level, disdaining or thinking less of other groups. The possibility of an ethnocentric bias in research led many early anthropologists to suggest ethnography—spending extended time within a culture to see things from cultural members’ point of view—as a way to reduce ethnocentrism in research.

A consideration of ethnocentrism has implications for other forms of bias as well, as the factors that predict national cultural ethnocentrism—and solutions that address it—could apply equally to one’s perception of life within one’s own community. The Hmong-descended people of the Pacific Northwest in the United States will likely feel that their ways are superior to those of Moroccan- or Guatemalan-descended peoples, as well as to those of the dominant culture. Auestad ( 2013 ) presented a series of essays on the rise of political discourses across the world that highlighted elements of national security and identity (tradition), as well as the building of cultures of fear by focusing on the negative aspects of foreigners or those of different religious groups within single countries. Some elements of the U.S. presidential race rhetoric of 2015–2016 exemplified this xenophobic and ethnocentric trend.

Within the field of intercultural communication, at least two lines of research have focused on ethnocentrism. The first is by Jim Neuliep, who, with colleagues, has revisited the measurement of ethnocentrism in the classic 1950 work by the Frankfurt School, The Authoritarian Personality , with a new measure of ethnocentrism. After applying the measure to white Americans, Neuliep ( 2012 ) continues to test the relationship of ethnocentrism to other important intercultural variables, such as intercultural anxiety and communication satisfaction. The second is Milton Bennett’s ( 1993 ) consideration of ethnorelativism. In this approach, a range of attitudes reflects either ethnocentrism or ethnorelativism. Ethnocentric stances include denial (e.g., indifference toward or ignorance of any difference at all), defense (traditional ethnocentrism of denigrating the culture of the other or feeling one’s own culture is superior, but also in “going native”), and minimization (focusing on similarities and ignoring differences, by claiming “color blindness,” or focusing on how we are all the same, be that as “God’s children” or in the Marxist struggle against oppression; 43). As one grows more “ethnorelative,” or accepting of difference, one exhibits one of three stages: acceptance (being respectful of and even appreciating the value and behavioral differences of others), adaptation (actually adopting behaviors or views of other groups), or integration (adopting a worldview that transcends any single culture). This approach has gained ground around the world and in different disciplines, from Finland to Iran, with applications from cultural sensitivity to interreligious tensions.

One of the difficulties of discussing prejudice is the conceptual overlap between terms (e.g., xenophobia conflates with racial or ethnic prejudice; ethnocentrism might refer to any people group, such as ethnic groups, and not just nations). At the root of our understanding of prejudice is the very goal of “tolerance.” In fact, the notion of tolerance for diversity may be limited: It is often treated merely as “the application of the same moral principles and rules, caring and empathy, and feelings of connections to human beings of other perceived groups” (Baldwin & Hecht, 1995 , p. 65). That is, it is similar to Bennett’s ( 1993 ) notion of acceptance, of respect for difference, though that respect sometimes (a) occurs at a difference and (b) sometimes exists in behavioral form only, but is not internalized. Communication of tolerance is a worthwhile pursuit in our behavior and research; however, we argue that we can go beyond tolerance to appreciation—even to the behavioral and attitudinal integration of elements of the other culture (Hecht & Baldwin, 1998 ). There is a danger of such appreciation, as borrowing (e.g., “cultural hybridity”) occurs within power relations. We are not talking about a dominant group borrowing from subordinate or subaltern groups in a colonizing or folklorizing way, but about cultural learning and dialogue.

Limited Perspectives of Prejudice

That consideration of tolerance/prejudice should be treated as a dichotomy or a range is only one of the difficulties that has haunted the study and conceptualization of prejudice. Debates have swirled around the nature of prejudice, the causes of prejudice, and the “locus” of certain prejudices (such as racism or sexism), among other things. Allport ( 1979 ) suggests that prejudice is a “generalized” attitude—that if one is prejudiced, say, toward Jewish people, she or he will also be prejudiced toward communists, people of color, and so on. It is possible, however, that one might be prejudiced toward some groups, even in some contexts, but not toward other groups (Baldwin & Hecht, 1995 ).

The nature of prejudice

Allport ( 1979 ) defines prejudice as “an avertive [i.e., avoiding] or hostile attitude toward a person who belongs to a group, simply because he [or she] belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to the group” (p. 7). By this definition, prejudice is an aspect of affect , or feeling toward a group, though it is closely related to cognitions , or thoughts about the group, referring to stereotypes. Also, prejudice is inherently negative, following the primary definition common in modern dictionaries, though a secondary definition includes any sort of prejudgment based on group belonging, such as prejudice toward one’s own group. Most dictionary definitions follow the attitudinal approach, though in common usage, people often use the term to refer to things like racism, which carry behavioral and even policy implications that are not strictly attitudes. By strictest definition, prejudice is an attitude that favors one group over another, based on or related to cognitions, and both leading to and influenced by behaviors (including communication), texts (e.g., media, rhetoric), and policies (following the notion of structuration, in which social structures guide social behavior, but social behavior in turn creates and changes social structures).

Causes of prejudice

Allport ( 1979 ) recognized a series of influences that impact a particular incident of prejudice, such as police brutality based on racial group/social class divisions or anti-Islamic bullying in secondary schools around the Western world. These include historical, sociological, situational, psychodynamic, and phenomenological (i.e., perceptual) influences. But ultimately, for Allport, a social psychologist, prejudice is “a problem of personality formation and development” (p. 41). For Althusser ( 1971 ), a Marxist philosopher, prejudice would likely, in the last instance, be an issue of economic and social class considerations. Ultimately, a cross-disciplinary perspective is more useful for understanding a complex phenomenon like prejudice (Hecht & Baldwin, 1998 ). A broader consideration should consider multiple causes (Baldwin, 1998 ), including evolutionary causes, psychological causes (both psychodynamic and perceptual), sociological causes, and rhetorical causes. Communication and behavior become central in each of these causes, highlighting the need for a communicative understanding of prejudice.

Evolutionary causes, often referred to under the rubric of sociobiology, focus on the way in which prejudice might be an inherited trait, possibly even genetic (see, e.g., essays in Reynolds, Falger, & Vine, 1987 ). This approach includes the idea that groups seek to preserve themselves (e.g., by preservation of a supposedly pure gene pool or because of fear of the stranger), the ethnocentrism already noted. Behaviors that exclude have a sense of “naturalness” in that they help a group to survive, and such exclusion of strangers may help to preserve a group’s existence. Some scholars have criticized this approach as a rationale for conservative politics that create a notion of “us” and “them” as natural and that exclude the other, often in racial or religious terms, in order to preserve the way of life of a dominant group within a culture or nation.

Psychological explanations of prejudice fall into at least two major divisions. The first, psychodynamic, suggests that prejudice serves as a mechanism for individuals to meet psychological needs. Thus researchers have long linked it to things such as ambivalence toward parents, rigid personality structure, and a need for authority (Allport, 1979 ; Adorno et al., 1950 ). We see this indirectly through Kenneth Burke’s ( 1967 ) approach to rhetoric in his analysis of Hitler’s campaign against Jewish people as a means to divert negative emotions related to economic and political difficulties from the mainstream German people to Jews, and in Edward Said’s ( 2003 ) Orientalism , which notes how Medieval Europe cast negative images of lust and vice on Middle Easterners that the Europeans did not see in themselves.

A second aspect of the psychological approach concerns perception or cognition. This contains a range of possible influences on prejudice, including such things as selective attention, perception, and recall of the negative behavior of outgroup members, or the notion of attributional biases that impact how we give meanings to the behavior of those of our ingroup and those of outgroups. At the center of many of these explanations is the notion of categorization of people (i.e., dividing them into cognitive groups such as ingroups and outgroups). Social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986 ) suggests that we cannot think of ourselves apart from the groups to which we belong; we engage in intergroup comparison as a means to make us feel better about our group; and, if our group does not compare well to a group we admire or must rely on in some way—often the dominant group—we engage in strategies to reclaim a sense of pride for our group or distance ourselves from it.

Categorization, in social identity theory, is not a form of prejudice—it is simply the mental placing of people (or things, actions, characteristics, etc.) into mental boxes. However, those boxes are closely related to the stereotypes that cling to groups. Stereotypes are overgeneralizations we make about groups that we apply to individuals in those groups (Herbst, 1997 ). Although these stereotypes provide a mental shortcut for processing information about others, they interfere with our encoding, storage, and recall of information about members of our own group and other groups (Stephan, 1985 ). Countless studies of stereotypes suggest that stereotypes, like ethnocentrism, can serve positive ingroup functions, that they sometimes have at least some basis in an actual behavior or custom (a “kernel of truth”), and that we stereotype both our own group and other groups. Devine (e.g., Devine & Sharp, 2009 ) has found that even people who report lower prejudice, if mentally occupied, still rely on stereotypes, suggesting that everyone is aware of societal stereotypes toward certain groups (e.g., the elderly, athletes, the deaf). It is likely that if we are on auto-pilot or in a state of mindlessness, we will resort to stereotypes. But individuating people (i.e., taking them out of the group we perceive them to be in and treating them as individuals; Dovidio, Gaertner, & Kawakami, 2003 ) may require deliberate cognitive effort.

Group-based, or sociological, approaches, like psychological approaches, are varied. These include Marxist approaches, which are themselves varied in form (see various essays in Rex & Mason, 1986 ). Some hold tightly to a “vulgar” vision of Marxism, framing intolerance like racism as a creation of the elite to divide the working classes and distract them from revolution through “false consciousness.” Few Marxists take such a severe approach, choosing to see looser relations between capital and the construction of intolerance, but in the “last instance,” seeing intolerance as linked to social class and economic systems. “Capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchal social systems are frequently identified as producing inherent race and gender inequalities which, in various ways, serve the needs of the systems they perpetuate” (Knowles & Mercer, 1992 , p. 110). Weberian approaches see a wider variety of classes than workers and elite, with prejudice linked not just to labor forces but to the struggle over goods, services, and prestige (Gerth & Mills, 1946 ). Other group-based factors also impact prejudice, such as perceived group competition for jobs and resources in times of economic upheaval (e.g., the 1970s oil crisis in the United States), known as realistic group conflict (Bobo, 1983 ); immigration reasons (refugees versus those seeking economic opportunity, patterns of settlement; Omi & Winant, 1986 ); and historically developed class statuses between groups that link immigrants or members of a minority group to a certain class (Wilson, 1978 ), such as the Gastarbeiter (guest-worker) Turks in Germany or the Algerian-descended French.

In a classic “chicken-egg” argument about which came first, it is fruitless to debate whether psychology leads to sociological causes or vice versa, and, in turn, whether these lead to the communicative expression of intolerance, or whether it is the communicative construction of group identities and intolerance that creates the attitudes (Ruscher, 2001 ). It is more likely that mental structures and communicative practices co-create each other, through forms we shall examine in more detail. One possible metaphor for understanding these influences, the impact of historical situations (such as the longstanding antipathy between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, Broome, 2005 ), and specific incidents (such as the attack on the World Trade Towers in New York City in 2001 ), is as layers building upon one other, or even as a hologram, in which we can imperfectly see some semblance of a complex prejudice through a single image—an experimental study on racial perceptions and media use, an analysis of an anti-Irish speech or a pro-nationalist song, or interviews with women who are victims of catcalling (Hecht & Baldwin, 1998 ). But, as a complete hologram provides the most faithful image, the most complete view of an intolerance will come through multiple views (e.g., disciplines), using multiple methods.

Racism: A Case Study in Prejudice

Racism as a specific type of prejudice is one of the most hotly discussed and debated sites of intolerance in contemporary times in the United States and beyond. Even countries that once imagined themselves as “racial democracies” in which racially different people lived side by side (like Brazil) are now admitting the harsh reality of entrenched and historic racism. Even though many there argue that class, not race, is the primary social distinction, as racism has become officially illegal, forms of overt racism, from social media to abuse and killing of unarmed blacks by police continue to receive recent focus in U.S. news.

Racism is a form of intolerance that is based on the supposedly biological distinction of race, but many authors today argue that race is a social construct, sometimes defined differently from country to country and even over time within a single country. Different authors have outlined the history of the notion of race in the English language, noting that at different times, it has referred to an ancestral clan (the race of Abraham), to supposed biological differences, and, more recently, to culture (Banton, 1987 ; Omi & Winant, 1986 ). Those who see a biological component cannot agree on how many races there are and, historically, politics and rhetoric have done as much to construct who belongs in a particular race as biology (e.g., in the early U.S., the Irish were considered “colored”). In the United States, race was based on racist assumptions, on one having even a small degree of colored blood in one’s ancestral lineage; in other cultures, race is based strictly on physiological features, regardless of lineage. Ethnicity , in contrast, is related more to the cultural origins of one’s background or ancestry, sometimes linked to a specific time and place. To emphasize its social constructedness, many authors bracket “race” with quotation marks.

Who Can Be Racist? The Locus of Racism (and Other Intolerances)

Can minority members be “racist”.

Beyond the nature of race itself, researchers and educators debate the very nature of racism. Some contend that racism is an intolerance based on the construction of race that is perpetrated and held by the support of the dominant system. For example, Malott and Schaefle ( 2015 ) define racism as “a system of oppression, whereby persons of a dominant racial group (whites in the United States) exercise power or privilege over those in nondominant groups” (p. 361). According to this argument, only whites can be racist in a white-dominated system (whether that dominance is by numbers or in political and social power). Others contend that racism is any system of beliefs—“held consciously or otherwise”—that treats members of a group that is different on supposedly biological grounds as “biologically different than one’s own” (Herbst, 1997 , p. 193). By this definition, anyone who sees another race group as inferior would be racist.

The locus of racism: Individual or structural?

This distinction in racism also applies to definitions of sexism or to the delineation between homophobia as a personal dislike or fear of LGBT individuals and heterosexism as a social structure that reinforces prejudice against them (Nakayama, 1998 ). The debate is similar to the definitional debate of prejudice in general—is it something that is strictly an individual trait, or is it something that is socially built into the structures of society—the laws, the media, the educational system, the church, and so on? Associated with this question is the nature of what racism is: The “individual-level” definition treats racism as a system of beliefs (i.e., a psychological construct), and the other treats it as a system of oppression that goes beyond individual psyche and personality to consider racism embedded within social structures. The question of where we see racism (and other intolerances) is vitally important. Those who see racism and other intolerances as primarily individual-level (stereotypes, personal dislikes, etc.) tend to address intolerance through training and educational programs in organizations and schools; those who see it as systemic believe that such approaches ignore larger issues of policy, law, segregation, discrimination, and media/rhetoric that produce and reproduce racist beliefs or create an environment that makes them grow. We see this tension, for example, in Rattansi’s ( 1992 ) discussion of the debate between multicultural education—an educational solution to tolerance focused on educating about differences—and antiracism, which addresses political and social structures that propagate and support racism.

Racism: Defined by intent or result?

A related definitional distinction regarding racism concerns whether an intent of harm or exclusion is necessary to define thoughts or actions as racist. Miles ( 1989 ) criticizes earlier notions of racism, largely in that they re-inscribe the notion of race as if it were a concrete reality rather than a social construction. He weaves together a new approach to racism that begins with discourses that serve to exclude the “other” (based on supposed biological differences); for Miles, “the concept of racism should refer to the function, rather than the content of the discourses” (p. 49), allowing racism to include things that may not sound racist but still seek to exclude the other. Miles differentiates racism from racialization , the categorization of people based on supposed biological differences. He argues against the use of racism and disagrees with a stance that would have only whites being racist, such that “all ‘white’ people are universally and inevitably sick with racism” (p. 53), as this concept may ignore the specifics of racism in particular countries, cultures, or circumstances; however, he notes the need to consider institutional racism—racism built into organizational, legal, and social structures—that does favor whites in many countries. By this, one could speak of racism as something any person could hold or express, but institutional racism would be reserved for a group that has power in a particular context. Finally, he bases racism not on the intent of an action, but on the result. He argues that racism is an ideology, based on differentiation, that leads to “exclusionary practices” (pp. 77–78), such as differential treatment or allocation of resources and opportunities, regardless of one’s intent or even awareness of the ideological underpinnings of one’s actions. Goldberg ( 1993 ) argues that we should allow racism to include either intent or result.

Including resulting exclusionary practice in our definition of racism has implications for redressing or addressing racism. First, it suggests a limitation in addressing overt racist thoughts and stereotypes only through education, as policies, laws, and social structures foster an environment for the presence of such thoughts and their communication. Miles ( 1989 ) advocates that “strategies for eliminating racism should concentrate less on trying exclusively to persuade those who articulate racism that they are ‘wrong’ and more on changing those particular economic and political relations” (p. 82). A second implication is that, even as we seek to address racism through everyday interactions and social media, because racism is such a charged topic, we will advance our cause little by calling an action, a joke, or a Facebook or Twitter posting “racist.” The poster, holding a more traditional view of racism as intentionally harmful in some way, will deny racist intent, and a charge of racism will move the discussion into the original communicator’s attempts to avoid the charge of racism (or sexism, etc.), rather than addressing the specific policy, image, or statement. Instead, we might discuss and demonstrate through evidence the way that the policy or image excludes others based on race. Without invoking the “r-word,” we may have a better chance at engaging in dialogues about policies, laws, and communicative behaviors that exclude others.

Intersectionalities of Racism

As we have begun to notice, one thing that complicates the concept of racism is its overlap with other terms, such as prejudice (with racism being a subset of prejudice). So, although xenophobia and ethnocentrism are distinct and separate from racism, the “other” within these concepts is often articulated or perceived in terms of race. A focus on racism and antiracism, unfortunately, often excludes other bases of intolerance that may be even more prominent within a given area, such as religious intolerance, sexism, or heterosexism. At the same time, it is useful to see how racism intersects with and sometimes leads to other intolerances, all of which have received much thought in recent years.

In some cases, feminists and antiracists have been at odds, proponents of each claiming that their sphere of oppression is the one that merits the most attention. Feminism is defined as “the belief that men and women are equal and should have equal respect and opportunities in all spheres of life—personal, social, work, and public” (Wood, 2008 , p. 324). Feminist communication research seeks to make the voices of women heard, to highlight their experiences within the social construction of gender, and “their experiences of oppression and of coping with and resisting that oppression” (Foss & Foss, 1994 , p. 39). Recent feminists consider how patriarchy, or male power or hegemony over the realities and voices of women, is not something maintained only by men nor is it deliberate. Rather, it is held in place by systems often beyond the awareness of men and women, and consented to and participated in by women themselves (Zompetti, 2012 ). Each of these ideas could also apply to racism, revealing a similarity between sexism and racism. But racism and sexism are also joined in the experiences of women of color, whose specific life situations are not fully addressed by either antiracist efforts or feminism. Collins ( 1990 ), for example, argues that African American women in the United States live in a site of triple oppression—by race, sex, and class, with these oppressions articulated by both the dominant white community and within the black community.

Queer theory

Queer theory seeks to challenge the way in which society passes on heterosexuality as the norm. Warner ( 1991 ) sees oppression of gays and lesbians in every aspect of society and in “a wide range of institutions and ideology” (p. 5). But even more so, he feels that the academy’s silence regarding oppression of sexual identity participates in that oppression. Chávez ( 2013 ) supports this claim, noting that at the writing of her article, no major journal in the National Communication Association had devoted a full issue to queer studies. Again, recent scholars have been looking at the intersection of race and sexual orientation (Yep, 2013 ), such as the representations and experiences of older gay male adults, Latina lesbians, and transgender blacks.

Whiteness studies

Based on the early writings of Richard Dyer ( 1997 ) and Ruth Frankenberg ( 1993 ), researchers have highlighted the notion of whiteness —a hidden system of ideology and social structure that maintains whites in a position of advantage—but one that is often invisible to, and yet defended by, whites (Wander, Nakayama, & Martin, 1999 ). Whiteness studies call attention to areas of white privilege. “By exposing the ‘invisibility’ of whiteness, the study of whiteness helps us understand the way that white domination continues” (p. 22). A current search for “whiteness” in a communication library search engine reveals over 800 articles on the topic. Many of these are media studies on how whiteness is promoted and/or challenged in a wide variety of texts, including South Park , the Rush Hour movies, The Hunger Games , and Glee . But whiteness is also analyzed in areas of education, everyday language, and health and organizational communication, as well as in many different countries.

Orientalism/postcolonialism

whiteness studies owe part of their heritage to postcolonialism, which has its own roots in the conceptualization of Orientalism by Edward Said ( 2003 ). Said analyzes European art and literature to reveal the construction of the Arab or Middle Easterner as “other.” He notes how the Western ideology of the East (referring to the Middle East) folklorizes and sexualizes Middle Easterners, treating them as backward, in a way that justifies European colonization and paternalism. Thousands of books now deal in some way with Orientalism, and Said’s notion of the “other” has become a stock theme in how we consider the racial other. For example, though not framed explicitly in Orientalism, James Baldwin’s famous 1955 essay “Stranger in the Village” talks about the rage of the black man as he confronts white America and the naiveté of whites—a naiveté that they work hard to preserve (thus relating Baldwin’s ideas to whiteness). When whites arrive in Africa, blacks are astonished:

The white man takes the astonishment as tribute, for he arrives to conquer and to convert the natives, whose inferiority in relation to himself is not even to be questioned; whereas I, without a thought of conquest, find myself among a people whose culture controls me, has even, in a sense, created me, people who have cost me more in anguish and rage than they will ever know, who yet do not even know of my existence … The rage of the disesteemed is personally fruitless, but it is also absolutely inevitable: the rage, so generally discounted, so little understood even among the people whose daily bread it is, is one of the things that makes history.

Postcolonialism, building upon Orientalism, considers all locations where one nation or people group has colonized another group, considering the cultural, political, and social ramifications of that colonization and seeking to remedy social ills that it has brought about. Shome and Hegde ( 2002 ) call the approach “interventionist and highly political” (p. 250). Postcolonialism notes how much of the world is forced to work within thought systems created by the Western world (an effect only magnified through the rise of the internet and globalization). Postcolonial writers are often interested in issues such as migration of people groups (including diasporic groups); the hybrid (but power-laden) mixture of ideas, artifacts, and behaviors between cultures; the liminal spaces between cultures; and the imperialism of ideas (Bhabha, 1994 ). Thus, postcolonialism is inherently about prejudice and oppression beyond racism, though it also has links to racism specifically, as authors consider the ways that some have used racial categories to colonize others (e.g., see essays in Nakayama & Halualani, 2010 ).

Discrimination: Considering the Form(s) of Intolerance

As we have seen, it is difficult to discuss prejudice in general or racism specifically without moving into issues of institutionalized prejudice, media representations, school and government policies, and so on. In this sense, both prejudice and racism are intricately intertwined with discrimination. Discrimination specifically refers to “behavior that denies equal treatment to people because of their membership in some group” (Herbst, 1997 , p. 185). It is based on the “beliefs, feelings, fantasies, and motivations of prejudice” (p. 185), but these mental or social concepts are not in themselves discrimination. Discrimination involves behavior.

Institutional Discrimination

When we think of institutional-level discrimination, many examples come to mind. These include things like not allowing certain groups housing or refusing other privileges, resources, or opportunities to them. At the writing of this chapter, a popular U.S. media topic is the county clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to give marriage licenses to gays or lesbians based on her faith, despite a state law that allowed her to do so. The Jim Crowe laws of the United States, which gave unequal educational and public access rights to blacks and whites is a classic example, with many facilities being for “whites only.” The website Global Issues (Shah, 2010 ) details instances of racism and racial discrimination around the world, such as racism against white farmers in Zimbabwe and discrimination against the Dalits—the “untouchables” in India.

Genocide and ethnic cleansing

At the extreme end of discrimination, we have genocide and ethnic cleansing . For example, around 1915 , the Ottomon (Turkish) empire slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians (75% of the Turkish Armenian population). The Turkish government took Armenian (largely Christian) children and converted them, giving them to Islamic families. Even today, Turkey defends this “Turkification” of Turkey as a necessary act of war and has resisted the U.S. and other nations defining it as genocide (Armenian genocide, n.d. ). Other genocides have occurred in Central Europe (the Holocaust) in the 1930s–1940s, Rwanda in 2003 , Cambodia in the 1970s, and the Greek/Pontic genocide of World War I. Extreme discrimination includes hate crimes and overt hate groups. The introduction of this chapter noted the prevalence of hate crimes and hate groups within the United States and other nations.

Redlining and racial profiling

In many countries, overt forms of discrimination for many (but seldom all) groups have been outlawed. Institutional discrimination itself may take forms that are harder to name and prove, such as redlining , the process by which banks give fewer mortgages to people of color, based on the belief that they are less able to repay loans. Some real estate agents may steer people of color away from rentals in upscale neighborhoods; school advisers may tell people of color that their children are more suited for trade school rather than college or graduate school. In the United States in 2014–2015 , there was a spate of cases surrounding potential police brutality against unarmed black men, leading to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. There is also racial profiling , such as when police pay more attention to people of color, stopping and/or searching them more frequently than they do whites (what some people of color call “DWB” or “driving while black”). A growing and complex array of academic studies examine whether or not profiling exists and, if so, what its nature is (e.g., is it pro-white, or does it depend on the race of the officer?). A similar phenomenon experienced by many people of color is being followed through stores by security guards, regardless of their attire or appearance. Notably, some aspects of discrimination, such as redlining, might be done, at least in the minds of the banker, real estate agent, or high school counselor, without a notion of racial discrimination; but here, Miles’s ( 1989 ) notion of racism defined by exclusionary outcome would classify the behaviors as racist, as they exclude based on supposed biological differences.

Intolerant Communication

Redneck racism/prejudice.

Central to our discussion is the way that discrimination and racism can occur through communicative behavior. Brislin ( 1991 ) outlined several forms of discriminatory communication. In addition to hate crimes and ethnic cleansing, he mentions redneck racism —the expression of blatant intolerance toward someone of another race. He applies these categories to racism, but we can apply them to any group. These might include jokes, statements (e.g., about the inferiority or backwardness of a group), or slurs or names for people of another group (also called ethnophaulisms ). Conventional wisdom, for example, suggests that there are many more slurs for women then there are for men, and most of these have some sexual connotation.

Sometimes, the intolerance is slightly veiled though still present, as when we resort to “us/them” language or talk to someone from another group about “your people.” Brislin’s ( 1991 ) notion of arm’s-length prejudice occurs when someone voices tolerance for a group, typically of being accepting of them in the neighborhood or workplace, but wants to restrict them from closer relationships, such as marrying a family member (related to Bogardus’s notion of social distance ; Allport, 1979 ). Prejudice might manifest in statements like “She’s very smart for an ‘X’” or “I have a friend who is a ‘Y,’ and he is very articulate,” since such statements assume that most Xs are not smart and most Ys are not articulate.

Prejudiced colloquialisms

Prejudice also manifests in our use of colloquialisms that play upon a particular aspect of identity or ability, such as calling something “lame” or “retarded.” Both the harm and use of such phrases has been established. For example, one study found that hearing the phrase “That’s so gay” made gays and lesbians feel less accepted in the university setting and, to a lesser degree, increased reported health problems. Over 45% of the participants had heard the word “gay” linked to something “stupid or undesirable” (Hall & LaFrance, 2012 , p. 430) ten or more times within the last year. Hall and LaFrance ( 2012 ) find a complex interplay between identity—males’ endorsement of gender identity norms andthe desire to distance themselves from homosexuality, as well as the social norms around them, and their likelihood to use the expression.

Prejudice built into language

We might well say that intolerance can be embedded in every level of language. In one classic study, men interrupted women much more than women interrupted men. If women overlapped men, men continued their turn speaking, but if men interrupted women, women yielded their turn speaking (Zimmerman & West, 1975 ). Coates’s ( 2003 ) analysis of narratives told by men in mixed company (such as around the family dinner table) notes that men are both the target and subject of most stories, with dinner table discussion typically centering on patriarchal authority. Research has explored prejudice through verbal and nonverbal behaviors toward people of different ages, people with disabilities, people with different languages or dialects, and other groups, including much theory and research on how we adjust or do not adjust our behavior toward those we perceive to be of different groups (communication accommodation theory; Gallois, Ogay, & Giles, 2005 ) or how minority members must negotiate their communication with dominant group members because of contexts of power and prejudice (co-cultural theory; Orbe & Spellers, 2005 ).

Bar-Tal ( 1990 ) and Zur ( 1991 ) note the way that we use rhetoric to create a sense of others (i.e., to create the identity of the enemy in a way that then justifies discrimination) resonates with Burke’s ( 1967 ) analysis of Hitler’s rhetorical construction of the Jewish people. Collins and Clément ( 2012 ), summarizing research from a special 2007 issue of Journal of Language and Social Psychology on language and discrimination up to the present, summarize the role of language as it pertains to prejudice:

Language is the primary means through which prejudice can be explicitly and implicitly communicated and is, therefore, a major contributor to its transmission and maintenance. But language can also play a more rooted and integral role in prejudice: changing perceptions by distorting the information it carries, focusing attention on social identities, and being a factor in the definition of group boundaries (p. 389).

Intolerance gone underground: Subtle forms of prejudice

As early as the mid-1980s, authors began to argue that in Western societies, racism and other forms of intolerance were going underground (i.e., aware that the redneck varieties of intolerance were socially unacceptable, people expressed less overt intolerance but continued to show intolerance through racism in ways that were “subtle” and “everyday”—a new and modern racism). People might express such forms of racism (and by extension other intolerances) through nonverbal behaviors, such as placing change on the counter instead of in an outgroup member’s hand, or through subtle sayings and word usages that exclude or put down the other person in some way that is not clearly distinguishable as prejudice. In the new racism, minority groups are not spoken of as inferior but as “different,” “although in many respects there are ‘deficiencies,’ such as single-parent families, drug abuse, lacking achievement values, and dependence on welfare and affirmative action—‘pathologies’ that need to be corrected” (van Dijk, 2000 , p. 34). Today, researchers and social activists refer to these subtle manifestations of prejudice as microagressions .

Symbolic racism is similar to subtle racism (Sears & Henry, 2005 ), though it relates more to political attitudes. Researchers have framed symbolic racism to include elements of anti-black sentiment hidden by political attitudes (e.g., that affirmative action has gone too far, that blacks are demanding too much; McConahay, 1986 ). Political research has a corollary in communication in that often, as whites talk about economic or political issues, there is at least a mental if not an explicit verbal coding of race or ethnic “othering.” International ownership of business becomes an issue when Japanese or Chinese companies start buying U.S. businesses, regardless of the large and long-term Dutch and English business holdings in America; discussions about welfare, gangs, and urban decay are often subtly about race. Similar verbal coding may also hold true with other identity groups.

Finally, in terms of face-to-face communication, researchers have explored the notion of “benevolent” intolerance. Discussions of things such as benevolent racism or sexism are often based on a larger notion of benevolent domination, whereby one nation or group seeks to dominate another, supposedly in its best interests (based on Rudyard Kipling’s notion of the “white man’s burden”). For example, Esposito and Romano ( 2014 ) contrast benevolent racism to other forms of post-U.S.-civil-rights forms of racism, such as laissez-faire racism, symbolic racism, and color-blind racism. Each might oppose affirmative action, for example, but for different reasons. Laissez-faire would oppose it based on ideas of meritocracy and free enterprise, blaming blacks themselves for lack of economic progress. Symbolic racism would hold that “the United States is a fair and equitable society where everyone has ample opportunity to succeed through hard work and talent” (p. 74), and that blacks who use the “race card” are hypersensitive—they are “too pushy, too demanding, too angry” (McConahay & Hough, 1976 , p. 38). Color-blind racism starts with what seems to be a reasonable assumption, that all people are the same, but then moves to assume that lack of progress of minority members is due to their personal choices, low work ethic, or lack of ability, and ignores structural support for inequalities.

Benevolent racism has a long history, even into slavery, a time in which some whites felt they were doing blacks a favor by controlling them and “providing” for them. More recently, it involves a seemingly positive attitude toward blacks that then opposes any social reforms like affirmative action as belittling blacks and working against their natural progress as citizens (Esposito & Romano, 2014 ). Benevolent sexism holds the same basic idea: Rather than sexism being based on anti-woman attitudes, it can also be supported by putting women “on a pedestal,” characterizing them as “pure creatures who ought to be protected, supported, and adored, and whose love is necessary to make a man complete” (Glick & Fiske, 2001 , p. 109). Extensive research has linked such benevolent ideas about women to negative outcomes for them.

Intolerance in the media and on the internet

Finally, many volumes have been written on the issues of stereotypes and intolerance in the media. This includes both social scientific work, such as the cultivation theory research that analyzes both representation of minorities in the media in different countries and the research that considers the effects of such representation. It also includes a wide array of critical and cultural analyses from the cultural studies school. Many of these analyses use the principles discussed—feminism, postcolonialism, critical race theory, whiteness, and so on. They work to demonstrate how the media systematically ignore, oversimplify, or negatively represent particular groups. One line of research in this field is the focus on the symbolic annihilation of race (Coleman & Chivers Yochim, 2008 ), which notes how, unlike stereotypes in the media that focus on the presence of some characteristic associated with a group, symbolic annihilation also considers “the meanings associated with absence, omission, or even inclusion that is not so obviously problematic (negative)” (p. 2), in terms of what such absences and seemingly benign images mean.

With the growth of the internet and video gaming, a final area of importance in understanding, researching, and working against prejudice includes all new media. The internet gives impetus for new research to understand hate groups on the media, flaming (e.g., in comments on video-hosting websites such as YouTube), and social media. We see examples of the use of social media for racist purposes in the flurry of racist twitters that followed the crowning of Nina Davuluri, an American of East Indian descent. Research considers both the presence of stereotypes in such media, as well as their effects.

The potential of communication

Unlike some early critical writers, who felt that media imagery (including new media) only produce and reproduce prevailing (prejudiced) ideologies, we must also consider the potential of face-to-face, mediated, and new media as places to challenge oppression. In terms of face-to-face communication, we can work through education to dispel stereotypes. That education can be simply on cultural differences and accomplishments, though changing cognitions alone may not change deeply felt affective prejudice, and only time (as more tolerant individuals assume positions of leadership) will lead to changes in discriminatory social structures. This is why some advocate for political education that addresses both personal and structural prejudice more directly, as well as political action and intervention in media systems.

Many scholars represent interpersonal contact as one of the best ways to address prejudice. Contact theory holds great potential for the planning of interventions to reduce intergroup tensions, as it describes how interpersonal contact with people from outgroups under the right conditions can work by changing both attitudes and affect, especially if people can see the other person as both a member of a new group while still recognizing their original group identity (Dovidio et al., 2003 ). Thomas Pettigrew ( 2016 ) outlines the history of research on authoritarianism (the desire and support for strong authority structures) and relative deprivation (the feeling that one’s group is disadvantaged in comparison to another group) as two of the main predictors of intergroup prejudice. He notes how, while personality factors like authoritarianism and cognitive rigidity are related to greater intolerance and make the likelihood of meaningful intergroup contact more unlikely, even in the presence of these variables, contact programs can have a positive effect for people with prejudice A meta-analysis of 515 contact studies suggests that contact works specifically by increasing knowledge of the other group, decreasing anxiety when one is with the other group, and increasing empathy for the other group (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2008 ).

In terms of media, we see both a growth in the production of media that challenges and resists stereotypes, rigid gender constructions, and so on, as well as a growth of grassroots efforts to highlight such oppression. One such effort is the website Fat, Ugly, or Slutty , a site composed of posts contributed by women who are stereotyped or verbally assaulted by men in video gaming websites, usually when the women have beaten them. The women are able to post comments made by other players, their own avatars, and even videos that the men sometimes send them. Efforts like these highlight forms of oppression that occur throughout the internet, but they also highlight the potential of the internet for addressing these forms of oppression in creative ways.

Conclusions

We have seen throughout this article that culture, prejudice, racism, and discrimination are related in complicated ways. Some people even see the characteristics of a particular culture (e.g., mainstream America’s conception of male and female beauty, the definition of a “good” education, or the focus on individualism) as negotiated between people with economic and power interests. Cultures (using the term much more widely than “nation”) are always ethnocentric, with individuals sometimes being xenophobic. But these forms of intolerance are frequently linked to other forms of intolerance—religious, racial, ethnic, and otherwise. Prejudice, most technically, is an affect—a desire to avoid someone because of her or his group, as opposed to stereotypes, which are more cognitive associations with a group—and efforts to reduce prejudice should focus on both affect and cognition. But intolerance is also clearly linked to higher-order manifestations of prejudice, such as discrimination through legal and organizational policies, symbolic annihilation of groups in the media, and everyday forms of discrimination, be they overt or subtle. More likely, communicative and policy forms of prejudice (and their manifest effects in terms of housing, education, job opportunities, and so on) “create” prejudicial perceptions, which in turn create the conditions of discrimination. Racism serves as an example—but only one of many—of the links among attitude, communicative action, policy, and social structure. With this complex view in mind, we can see that any attempts to redress or ameliorate racism or any other intolerance must include not only education, or even merely a wide array of communicative responses (media and face-to-face), but also efforts at addressing social inequalities at the structural and policy levels.

Further Reading

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The NHS, with its highly ethnically diverse workforce and a specific focus on people’s health, ought to be an exemplar for staff wellbeing, but this is far from the case, a study has found. 1

Experiences of racism, exclusion, and discrimination contribute to low levels of wellbeing among black and other minority ethnic (BME) groups, including staff in the NHS, the study report said. A decade on since the NHS Race Equality Plan, “there is little evidence of progress in achieving its goals,” the report said. Far from being an exemplar, “the NHS helps to illuminate the impact and consequences of lower wellbeing as well as specific drivers for differences in wellbeing between different ethnic groups.”

The report, published last month, was written by Mala Rao, professor of international health at East London University, and Jacqui Stevenson, an expert in gender equity and human rights. “The need to address racism and discrimination within the NHS is incontrovertible,” they said.

Their research examined a range of literature on ethnic disparities in wellbeing and included interviews with NHS staff, clinicians, and senior leaders and a summary of a roundtable discussion. It highlighted ethnic discrimination in the NHS recruitment process and cited research by BMJ Careers showing that white doctors were almost three times as likely to be successful in applying for hospital jobs as doctors from ethnic minorities. 2

The research by BMJ Careers showed that black or black British applicants were the ethnic group least likely to secure hospital doctor jobs (2.7% success rate), followed by doctors of mixed ethnicity (3.5%) and Asian and Asian British doctors (5.7%). White doctors were more likely to be shortlisted for jobs and to be appointed to roles once they had been shortlisted.

The report also highlighted a lack of ethnic diversity on NHS boards and in leadership roles. Although BME people make up 45% of London’s population and 41% of the capital’s NHS staff, just 8% of NHS trust board members and 2.5% of chief executives and chairs are from these groups. That picture is broadly reflected nationally, Rao and Stevenson said.

Nigel Crisp, a former chief executive of the NHS who worked on the NHS Race Equality Plan, which was developed in 2004, told researchers that the plan had achieved some successes. But he said that there were also limits to what had been achieved, particularly on improving BME representation at senior levels. Under-representation affected staff morale and this in turn “inevitably” affected the care of patients and outcomes, he said. “This is a health issue and not just an equal opportunities one,” he said.

The study cited data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre on the ethnic composition of the NHS workforce. These data show that an “ethnic gradient” exists, with BME staff being represented in larger numbers at lower pay grades and in lower status roles among medical and non-medical grades of staff, Rao and Stevenson said. Overall, ethnic minority NHS staff felt pushed towards less popular specialisms and roles and found routes of progression “closed off,” they added.

Aneez Esmail, a professor of general practice at Manchester University who has studied discrimination against doctors, told the researchers that many BME staff members were, at one level, pleased to get secure jobs. “At another level, they see themselves in dead end jobs which other people don’t want to do. And that invariably impacts on their assessment of the NHS as an employer and the ability of the NHS to offer them job satisfaction,” he said.

Rao and Stevenson said that barriers to progression were identified by “all study participants” and that the effects, with discrimination seen as a major driver, were “significant and pernicious”. They were particularly concerned that “no assertive action” seemed to have been taken to eliminate under-representation in applications or the lower likelihood of BME staff to secure clinical excellence awards, despite this under-representation being reported as a problem year after year. They pointed out that BME women faced the “dual disadvantage of gender and ethnicity,” which again had not been adequately tackled.

The study also found that BME staff faced “disproportionate” rates of complaints and disciplinary actions. It highlighted problems of racist verbal and physical attacks, bullying, and harassment. “The links between race, racism, and complaints, and the impact that has on staff both directly affected and those aware of such incidents and made insecure by them, were highlighted at the roundtable [discussion],” the researchers said.

“Experiences of actual or perceived discrimination, barriers to progression and other inequalities are broadly agreed to have an impact on staff wellbeing.” It was “broadly accepted” that there was a link between the wellbeing of staff and the care and outcomes patients received, they added.

Carol Baxter, who leads on NHS equality and diversity for NHS England, told the review, “In those areas in which staff report harassment and bullying, patient experience is worse.” She added, “I think the NHS knows that happy staff means happy patients, but what the NHS needs to do more of is to find out the things that are making staff unhappy and to look more at the unconscious biases that exist with the services that make BME staff unhappy. That is a harder nut to crack: they know in theory, but addressing the solutions is where the challenge is at right now—the knowledge is already there.”

Umesh Prabhu, medical director at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, told the researchers that staff wellbeing and the prevalence of racism and discrimination had a direct effect on patient safety. Poor leadership, a culture of bullying, and discrimination created an atmosphere that was not conducive to people admitting mistakes or raising concerns, he said.

The study said that the experience of BME staff was a “good barometer” of the climate of respect and care for all in the NHS. The researchers said that urgent action was needed to ensure equality in recruitment, career progression, and rewards and recognition.

“The NHS must undergo a cultural change to increase understanding of and commitment to equality and diversity, with a focus on the benefits of diversity to staff, patients and the NHS system,” they said. “This must include all levels and branches of the NHS system as well as the wider medical community including the General Medical Council and the Royal Colleges.”

They also called for better training and induction programmes for BME staff recruited from overseas, improved NHS leadership, and systematic analysis and reporting of data by the NHS on the extent of ethnic differences in the quality of care. In addition, they said that more research was needed on the potential effects and determinants of inequalities in wellbeing.

Yvonne Coghill, who leads on inclusion and coaching for the NHS Leadership Academy, spoke at the launch of the report at the House of Lords. She said that training in equality and diversity had been of “variable quality” and must be improved. “It raises antibodies in people—they don’t want to engage,” she said. “It doesn’t change hearts and minds or get people to change behaviour.”

David Prior, who chairs the Care Quality Commission, welcomed the report and said that there was a clear correlation between good care and staff engagement. The CQC would look to see how issues raised in the report could be dealt with, such as in the process of inspection of hospitals and general practices, he said.

  • ↵ Rao M, Stevenson J. Explaining levels of wellbeing in BME populations in England. 21 Jul 2014. http://ahpn.org/news/2014/07/21/explaining_levels_of_wellbeing_in_bme_populations_in_england_379 .
  • ↵ Jaques H. White doctors are almost three times more likely to land hospital jobs than ethnic minority doctors. BMJ Careers 6 Jun 2013 . http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=20012803 .

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The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets

Persistent racial inequality in employment, housing, and a wide range of other social domains has renewed interest in the possible role of discrimination. And yet, unlike in the pre–civil rights era, when racial prejudice and discrimination were overt and widespread, today discrimination is less readily identifiable, posing problems for social scientific conceptualization and measurement. This article reviews the relevant literature on discrimination, with an emphasis on racial discrimination in employment, housing, credit markets, and consumer interactions. We begin by defining discrimination and discussing relevant methods of measurement. We then provide an overview of major findings from studies of discrimination in each of the four domains; and, finally, we turn to a discussion of the individual, organizational, and structural mechanisms that may underlie contemporary forms of discrimination. This discussion seeks to orient readers to some of the key debates in the study of discrimination and to provide a roadmap for those interested in building upon this long and important line of research.

Persistent racial inequality in employment, housing, and other social domains has renewed interest in the possible role of discrimination. Contemporary forms of discrimination, however, are often subtle and covert, posing problems for social scientific conceptualization and measurement. This article reviews the relevant literature on racial discrimination, providing a roadmap for scholars who wish to build on this rich and important tradition. The charge for this article was a focus on racial discrimination in employment, housing, credit markets, and consumer interactions, but many of the arguments reviewed here may also extend to other domains (e.g., education, health care, the criminal justice system) and to other types of discrimination (e.g., gender, age, sexual orientation). We begin this discussion by defining discrimination and discussing methods for measuring discrimination. We then provide an overview of major findings from studies of discrimination in employment, housing, and credit and consumer markets. Finally, we turn to a discussion of the individual, organizational, and structural mechanisms that may underlie contemporary forms of discrimination.

WHAT IS DISCRIMINATION?

According to its most simple definition, racial discrimination refers to unequal treatment of persons or groups on the basis of their race or ethnicity. In defining racial discrimination, many scholars and legal advocates distinguish between differential treatment and disparate impact, creating a two-part definition: Differential treatment occurs when individuals are treated unequally because of their race. Disparate impact occurs when individuals are treated equally according to a given set of rules and procedures but when the latter are constructed in ways that favor members of one group over another ( Reskin 1998 , p. 32; National Research Council 2004 , pp. 39–40). The second component of this definition broadens its scope to include decisions and processes that may not themselves have any explicit racial content but that have the consequence of producing or reinforcing racial disadvantage. Beyond more conventional forms of individual discrimination, institutional processes such as these are important to consider in assessing how valued opportunities are structured by race.

A key feature of any definition of discrimination is its focus on behavior. Discrimination is distinct from racial prejudice (attitudes), racial stereotypes (beliefs), and racism (ideologies) that may also be associated with racial disadvantage (see Quillian 2006 ). Discrimination may be motivated by prejudice, stereotypes, or racism, but the definition of discrimination does not presume any unique underlying cause.

HOW CAN WE MEASURE DISCRIMINATION?

More than a century of social science interest in the question of discrimination has resulted in numerous techniques to isolate and identify its presence and to document its effects ( National Research Council 2004 ). Although no method is without its limitations, together these techniques provide a range of perspectives that can help to inform our understanding of whether, how, and to what degree discrimination matters in the lives of contemporary American racial minorities.

Perceptions of Discrimination

Numerous surveys have asked African Americans and other racial minorities about their experiences with discrimination in the workplace, in their search for housing, and in other everyday social settings ( Schuman et al. 2001 ). One startling conclusion from this line of research is the frequency with which discrimination is reported. A 2001 survey, for example, found that more than one-third of blacks and nearly 20% of Hispanics and Asians reported that they had personally been passed over for a job or promotion because of their race or ethnicity ( Schiller 2004 ). A 1997 Gallup poll found that nearly half of all black respondents reported having experienced discrimination at least once in one of five common situations in the past month ( Gallup Organ. 1997 ). Further, the frequency with which discrimination is reported does not decline among those higher in the social hierarchy; in fact, middle-class blacks are as likely to perceive discrimination as are working-class blacks, if not more ( Feagin & Sikes 1994 , Kessler et al. 1990 ). Patterns of perceived discrimination are important findings in their own right, as research shows that those who perceive high levels of discrimination are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and other negative health outcomes ( Kessler et al. 1990 ). Furthermore, perceived discrimination may lead to diminished effort or performance in education or the labor market, which itself gives rise to negative outcomes ( Ogbu 1991 ; Steele 1997 ; Loury 2002 , pp. 26–33). What remains unclear from this line of research, however, is to what extent perceptions of discrimination correspond to some reliable depiction of reality. Because events may be misperceived or overlooked, perceptions of discrimination may over- or underestimate the actual incidence of discrimination.

Reports by Potential Discriminators

Another line of social science research focuses on the attitudes and actions of dominant groups for insights into when and how racial considerations come into play. In addition to the long tradition of survey research on racial attitudes and stereotypes among the general population (cf. Schuman et al. 2001 , Farley et al. 1994 ), a number of researchers have developed interview techniques aimed at gauging propensities toward discrimination among employers and other gatekeepers. Harry Holzer has conducted a number of employer surveys in which employers are asked a series of questions about “the last worker hired for a noncollege job,” thereby grounding employers’ responses in a concrete recent experience (e.g., Holzer 1996 ). In this format, race is asked about as only one incidental characteristic in a larger series of questions concerning this recent employee, thereby reducing the social desirability bias often triggered when the subject of race is highlighted. Likewise, by focusing on a completed action, the researcher is able to document revealed preferences rather than expressed ones and to examine the range of employer, job, and labor market characteristics that may be associated with hiring decisions.

A second prominent approach to investigating racial discrimination in employment has relied on in-depth, in-person interviews, which can be effective in eliciting candid discussions about sensitive hiring issues. Kirschenman & Neckerman (1991) , for example, describe employers’ blatant admission of their avoidance of young, inner-city black men in their search for workers. Attributing characteristics such as “lazy” and “unreliable” to this group, the employers included in their study were candid in their expressions of strong racial preferences in considering low wage workers (p. 213; see also Wilson 1996 , Moss & Tilly 2001 ). These in-depth studies have been invaluable in providing detailed accounts of what goes through the minds of employers—at least consciously— as they evaluate members of different groups. However, we must keep in mind that racial attitudes are not always predictive of corresponding behavior ( LaPiere 1934 , Allport 1954 , Pager & Quillian 2005 ). Indeed, Moss & Tilly (2001) report the puzzling finding that “businesses where a plurality of managers complained about black motivation are more likely to hire black men” (p. 151). Hiring decisions (as with decisions to rent a home or approve a mortgage) are influenced by a complex range of factors, racial attitudes being only one. Where understanding persistent racial prejudice and stereotypes is surely an important goal in and of itself, this approach will not necessarily reveal the extent of discrimination in action.

Statistical Analyses

Perhaps the most common approach to studying discrimination is by investigating inequality in outcomes between groups. Rather than focusing on the attitudes or perceptions of actors that may be correlated with acts of discrimination, this approach looks to the possible consequences of discrimination in the unequal distribution of employment, housing, or other social and economic resources. Using large-scale datasets, researchers can identify systematic disparities between groups and chart their direction over time. Important patterns can also be detected through detailed and systematic case studies of individual firms, which often provide a richer array of indicators with which to assess patterns of discrimination (e.g., Castilla 2008 , Petersen & Saporta 2004 , Fernandez & Friedrich 2007 ).

Discrimination in statistical models is often measured as the residual race gap in any outcome that remains after controlling for all other race-related influences. Differences may be identified through the main effect of race, suggesting a direct effect of race on an outcome of interest, or through an interaction between race and one or more human capital characteristics, suggesting differential returns to human capital investments on the basis of race ( Oaxaca 1973 ; National Research Council 2004 , chapter 7). The main liability of this approach is that it is difficult to effectively account for the multitude of factors relevant to unequal outcomes, leaving open the possibility that the disparities we attribute to discrimination may in fact be explained by some other unmeasured cause(s). In statistical analyses of labor market outcomes, for example, even after controlling for standard human capital variables (e.g., education, work experience), a whole host of employment-related characteristics typically remain unaccounted for. Characteristics such as reliability, motivation, interpersonal skills, and punctuality, for example, are each important to finding and keeping a job, but these are characteristics that are often difficult to capture with survey data (see, for example, Farkas & Vicknair 1996 , Farkas 2003 ). Complicating matters further, some potential control variables may themselves be endogenous to the process under investigation. Models estimating credit discrimination, for example, typically include controls for asset accumulation and credit history, which may themselves be in part the byproduct of discrimination ( Yinger 1998 , pp. 26–27). Likewise, controls for work experience or firm tenure may be endogenous to the process of employment discrimination if minorities are excluded from those opportunities necessary to building stable work histories (see Tomaskovic-Devey et al. 2005 ). While statistical models represent an extremely important approach to the study of race differentials, researchers should use caution in making causal interpretations of the indirect measures of discrimination derived from residual estimates. For a more detailed discussion of the challenges and possibilities of statistical approaches to measuring discrimination, see the National Research Council (2004 , chapter 7).

Experimental Approaches to Measuring Discrimination

Experimental approaches to measuring discrimination excel in exactly those areas in which statistical analyses flounder. Experiments allow researchers to measure causal effects more directly by presenting carefully constructed and controlled comparisons. In a laboratory experiment by Dovidio & Gaertner (2000) , for example, subjects (undergraduate psychology students) took part in a simulated hiring experiment in which they were asked to evaluate the application materials for black and white job applicants of varying qualification levels. When applicants were either highly qualified or poorly qualified for the position, there was no evidence of discrimination. When applicants had acceptable but ambiguous qualifications, however, participants were nearly 70% more likely to recommend the white applicant than the black applicant (see also Biernat & Kobrynowicz’s 1997 discussion of shifting standards). 1

Although laboratory experiments offer some of the strongest evidence of causal relationships, we do not know the extent to which their findings relate to the kinds of decisions made in their social contexts—to hire, to rent, to move, for example—that are most relevant to understanding the forms of discrimination that produce meaningful social disparities. Seeking to bring more realism to the investigation, some researchers have moved experiments out of the laboratory and into the field. Field experiments offer a direct measure of discrimination in real-world contexts. In these experiments, typically referred to as audit studies, researchers carefully select, match, and train individuals (called testers) to play the part of a job/apartment-seeker or consumer. By presenting equally qualified individuals who differ only by race or ethnicity, researchers can assess the degree to which racial considerations affect access to opportunities. Audit studies have documented strong evidence of discrimination in the context of employment (for a review, see Pager 2007a ), housing searches ( Yinger 1995 ), car sales ( Ayres & Siegelman 1995 ), applications for insurance ( Wissoker et al. 1998 ), home mortgages ( Turner & Skidmore 1999 ), the provision of medical care ( Schulman et al. 1999 ), and even in hailing taxis ( Ridley et al. 1989 ).

Although experimental methods are appealing in their ability to isolate causal effects, they nevertheless suffer from some important limitations. Critiques of the audit methodology have focused on questions of internal validity (e.g., experimenter effects, the problems of effective tester matching), generalizability (e.g., the use of overqualified testers, the limited sampling frame for the selection of firms to be audited), and the ethics of audit research (see Heckman 1998 , Pager 2007a for a more extensive discussion of these issues). In addition, audit studies are often costly and difficult to implement and can only be used for selective decision points (e.g., hiring decisions but not training, promotion, termination, etc.).

Studies of Law and Legal Records

Since the civil rights era, legal definitions and accounts of discrimination have been central to both popular and scholarly understandings of discrimination. Accordingly, an additional window into the dynamics of discrimination involves the use of legal records from formal discrimination claims. Whether derived from claims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the courts, or state-level Fair Employment/Fair Housing Bureaus, official records documenting claims of discrimination can provide unique insight into the patterns of discrimination and antidiscrimination enforcement in particular contexts and over time.

Roscigno (2007) , for example, analyzed thousands of “serious claims” filed with the Civil Rights Commission of Ohio related to both employment and housing discrimination. These claims document a range of discriminatory behaviors, from harassment, to exclusion, to more subtle forms of racial bias. [See also Harris et al. (2005) for a similar research design focusing on federal court claims of consumer discrimination.] Although studies relying on formal discrimination claims necessarily overlook those incidents that go unnoticed or unreported, these records provide a rare opportunity to witness detailed descriptions of discrimination events across a wide range of social domains not typically observed in conventional research designs.

Other studies use discrimination claims, not to assess patterns of discrimination, but to investigate trends in the application of antidiscrimination law. Nielsen & Nelson (2005) provide an overview of research in this area, examining the pathways by which potential claims (or perceived discrimination) develop into formal legal action, or conversely the many points at which potential claims are deflected from legal action. Hirsh & Kornrich (2008) examine how characteristics of the workplace and institutional environment affect variation in the incidence of discrimination claims and their verification by EEOC investigators. Donohue & Siegelman (1991 , 2005 ) analyze discrimination claims from 1970 through 1997 to chart changes in the nature of antidiscrimination enforcement over time. The overall volume of discrimination claims increased substantially over this period, though the composition of claims shifted away from an emphasis on racial discrimination toward a greater emphasis on gender and disability discrimination. Likewise, the types of employment discrimination claims have shifted from an emphasis on hiring discrimination to an overwhelming emphasis on wrongful termination, and class action suits have become increasingly rare. The authors interpret these trends not as indicators of changes in the actual distribution of discrimination events, but rather as reflections of the changing legal environment in which discrimination cases are pursued (including, for example, changes to civil rights law and changes in the receptivity of the courts to various types of discrimination claims), which themselves may have implications for the expression of discrimination ( Donohue & Siegelman 1991 , 2005 ).

Finally, a number of researchers have exploited changes in civil rights and antidiscrimination laws as a source of exogenous variation through which to measure changes in discrimination (see Holzer & Ludwig 2003 ). Freeman (1973 , see table 6 therein), for example, investigates the effectiveness of federal EEO laws by comparing the black-white income gap before and after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Heckman & Payner (1989) use microdata from textile plants in South Carolina to study the effects of race on employment between 1940 and 1980, concluding that federal antidiscrimination policy resulted in a significant improvement in black economic status between 1965 and 1975. More recent studies exploiting changes in the legal context include Kelly & Dobbin (1998) , who examine the effects of changing enforcement regimes on employers’ implementation of diversity initiatives; Kalev & Dobbin (2006) , who examine the relative impact of compliance reviews and lawsuits on the representation of women and minorities in management positions; and a volume edited by Skrentny (2001) , which examines many of the complex and unexpected facets related to the rise, expansion, and impact of affirmative action and diversity policies in the United States and internationally.

Although no research method is without flaws, careful consideration of the range of methods available helps to match one’s research question with the appropriate empirical strategy. Comparisons across studies can help to shed light on the relative strengths and weaknesses of existing methodological approaches (see National Research Council 2004 ). At the same time, one must keep in mind that the nature of discrimination may itself be a moving target, with the forms and patterns of discrimination shifting over time and across domains (see Massey 2005 , p. 148). These complexities challenge our traditional modes of operationalization and encourage us to continue to update and refine our measures to allow for an adequate accounting of contemporary forms of racial discrimination.

IS DISCRIMINATION STILL A PROBLEM?

Simple as it may be, one basic question that preoccupies the contemporary literature on discrimination centers around its continuing relevance. Whereas 50 years ago acts of discrimination were overt and widespread, today it is harder to assess the degree to which everyday experiences and opportunities may be shaped by ongoing forms of discrimination. Indeed, the majority of white Americans believe that a black person today has the same chance at getting a job as an equally qualified white person, and only a third believe that discrimination is an important explanation for why blacks do worse than whites in income, housing, and jobs ( Pager 2007a ). Academic literature has likewise questioned the relevance of discrimination for modern-day outcomes, with the rising importance of skill, structural changes in the economy, and other nonracial factors accounting for increasing amounts of variance in individual outcomes ( Heckman 1998 , Wilson 1978 ). Indeed, discrimination is not the only nor even the most important factor shaping contemporary opportunities. Nevertheless, it is important to understand when and how discrimination does play a role in the allocation of resources and opportunities. In the following discussion, we examine the evidence of discrimination in four domains: employment, housing, credit markets, and consumer markets. Although not an exhaustive review of the literature, this discussion aims to identify the major findings and debates within each of these areas of research.

Although there have been some remarkable gains in the labor force status of racial minorities, significant disparities remain. African Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites (Hispanics are only marginally so), and the wages of both blacks and Hispanics continue to lag well behind those of whites (author’s analysis of Current Population Survey, 2006). A long line of research has examined the degree to which discrimination plays a role in shaping contemporary labor market disparities.

Experimental audit studies focusing on hiring decisions have consistently found strong evidence of racial discrimination, with estimates of white preference ranging from 50% to 240% ( Cross et al. 1989 , Turner et al. 1991 , Fix & Struyk 1993 , Bendick et al. 1994 ; see Pager 2007a for a review). For example, in a study by Bertrand & Mullainathan (2004) , the researchers mailed equivalent resumes to employers in Boston and Chicago using racially identifiable names to signal race (for example, names like Jamal and Lakisha signaled African Americans, while Brad and Emily were associated with whites). 2 White names triggered a callback rate that was 50% higher than that of equally qualified black applicants. Further, their study indicated that improving the qualifications of applicants benefited white applicants but not blacks, thus leading to a wider racial gap in response rates for those with higher skill.

Statistical studies of employment outcomes likewise reveal large racial disparities unaccounted for by observed human capital characteristics. Tomaskovic-Devey et al. (2005) present evidence from a fixed-effects model indicating that black men spend significantly more time searching for work, acquire less work experience, and experience less stable employment than do whites with otherwise equivalent characteristics. Wilson et al. (1995) find that, controlling for age, education, urban location, and occupation, black male high school graduates are 70% more likely to experience involuntary unemployment than whites with similar characteristics and that this disparity increases among those with higher levels of education. At more aggregate levels, research points to the persistence of occupational segregation, with racial minorities concentrated in jobs with lower levels of stability and authority and with fewer opportunities for advancement ( Parcel & Mueller 1983 , Smith 2002 ). Of course, these residual estimates cannot control for all relevant factors, such as motivation, effort, access to useful social networks, and other factors that may produce disparities in the absence of direct discrimination. Nevertheless, these estimates suggest that blacks and whites with observably similar human capital characteristics experience markedly different employment outcomes.

Unlike the cases of hiring and employment, research on wage disparities comes to more mixed conclusions. An audit study by Bendick et al. (1994) finds that, among those testers who were given job offers, whites were offered wages that were on average 15 cents/hour higher than their equally qualified black test partners; audit studies in general, however, provide limited information on wages, as many testers never make it to the wage setting stage of the employment process. Some statistical evidence comes to similar conclusions. Cancio et al. (1996) , for example, find that, controlling for parental background, education, work experience, tenure, and training, white men earn roughly 15% more than comparable blacks (white women earned 6% more than comparable black women). Farkas & Vicknair (1996) , however, using a different dataset, find that the addition of controls for cognitive ability eliminates the racial wage gap for young black and white full-time workers. According to the authors, these findings suggest that racial differences in labor market outcomes are due more to factors that precede labor market entry (e.g., skill acquisition) rather than discrimination within the labor market (see also Neal & Johnson 1996 ).

Overall, then, the literature points toward consistent evidence of discrimination in access to employment, but less consistent evidence of discrimination in wages. Differing methodologies and/or model specification may account for some of the divergent results. But there is also reason to believe that the processes affecting access to employment (e.g., the influence of first impressions, the absence of more reliable information on prospective employees, and minimal legal oversight) may be more subject to discriminatory decision making than those affecting wages. Further, the findings regarding employment and wages may be in part causally related, as barriers to labor market entry will lead to a more select sample of black wage earners, reducing measured racial disparities (e.g., Western & Pettit 2005 ). These findings point to the importance of modeling discrimination as a process rather than a single-point outcome, with disparities in premarket skills acquisition, barriers to labor market entry, and wage differentials each part of a larger employment trajectory and shaped to differing degrees by discrimination.

Residential segregation by race remains a salient feature of contemporary American cities. Indeed, African Americans were as segregated from whites in 1990 as they had been at the start of the twentieth century, and levels of segregation appear unaffected by rising socioeconomic status ( Massey & Denton 1993 ). Although segregation appears to have modestly decreased between 1980 and 2000 ( Logan et al. 2004 ), blacks (and to a lesser extent other minority groups) continue to experience patterns of residential placement markedly different from whites. The degree to which discrimination contributes to racial disparities in housing has been a major preoccupation of social scientists and federal housing agents ( Charles 2003 ).

The vast majority of the work on discrimination in housing utilizes experimental audit data. For example, between 2000 and 2002 the Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted an extensive series of audits measuring housing discrimination against blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans, including nearly 5500 paired tests in nearly 30 metropolitan areas [see Turner et al. (2002) , Turner & Ross (2003a) ; see also Hakken (1979) , Feins & Bratt (1983) , Yinger (1986) , Roychoudhury & Goodman (1992 , 1996 ) for additional, single-city audits of housing discrimination]. The study results reveal bias across multiple dimensions, with blacks experiencing consistent adverse treatment in roughly one in five housing searches and Hispanics experiencing consistent adverse treatment in roughly one out of four housing searches (both rental and sales). 3 Measured discrimination took the form of less information offered about units, fewer opportunities to view units, and, in the case of home buyers, less assistance with financing and steering into less wealthy communities and neighborhoods with a higher proportion of minority residents.

Generally, the results of the 2000 Housing Discrimination Study indicate that aggregate levels of discrimination against blacks declined modestly in both rentals and sales since 1989 (although levels of racial steering increased). Discrimination against Hispanics in housing sales declined, although Hispanics experienced increasing levels of discrimination in rental markets.

Other research using telephone audits further points to a gender and class dimension of racial discrimination in which black women and/or blacks who speak in a manner associated with a lower-class upbringing suffer greater discrimination than black men and/or those signaling a middle-class upbringing ( Massey & Lundy 2001 , Purnell et al. 1999 ). Context also matters in the distribution of discrimination events ( Fischer & Massey 2004 ). Turner & Ross (2005) report that segregation and class steering of blacks occurs most often when either the housing or the office of the real estate agent is in a predominantly white neighborhood. Multi-city audits likewise suggest that the incidence of discrimination varies substantially across metropolitan contexts ( Turner et al. 2002 ).

Moving beyond evidence of exclusionary treatment, Roscigno and colleagues (2007) provide evidence of the various forms of housing discrimination that can extend well beyond the point of purchase (or rental agreement). Examples from a sample of discrimination claims filed with the Civil Rights Commission of Ohio point to the failure of landlords to provide adequate maintenance for housing units, to harassment or physical threats by managers or neighbors, and to the unequal enforcement of a residential association’s rules.

Overall, the available evidence suggests that discrimination in rental and housing markets remains pervasive. Although there are some promising signs of change, the frequency with which racial minorities experience differential treatment in housing searches suggests that discrimination remains an important barrier to residential opportunities. The implications of these trends for other forms of inequality (health, employment, wealth, and inheritance) are discussed below.

Credit Markets

Whites possess roughly 12 times the wealth of African Americans; in fact, whites near the bottom of the income distribution possess more wealth than blacks near the top of the income distribution ( Oliver & Shapiro 1997 , p. 86). Given that home ownership is one of the most significant sources of wealth accumulation, patterns that affect the value and viability of home ownership will have an impact on wealth disparities overall. Accordingly, the majority of work on discrimination in credit markets focuses on the specific case of mortgages.

Available evidence suggests that blacks and Hispanics face higher rejection rates and less favorable terms in securing mortgages than do whites with similar credit characteristics ( Ross & Yinger 1999 ). Oliver & Shapiro (1997 , p. 142) report that blacks pay more than 0.5% higher interest rates on home mortgages than do whites and that this difference persists with controls for income level, date of purchase, and age of buyer.

The most prominent study of the effect of race on rejection rates for mortgage loans is by Munnell et al. (1996) , which uses 1991 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data supplemented by data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, including individual applicants’ financial, employment, and property background variables that lenders use to calculate the applicants’ probability of default. Accounting for a range of variables linked to risk of default, cost of default, loan characteristics, and personal and neighborhood characteristics, they find that black and Hispanic applications were 82% more likely to be rejected than were those from similar whites. Critics argued that the study was flawed on the basis of the quality of the data collected ( Horne 1994 ), model specification problems ( Glennon & Stengel 1994 ), omitted variables ( Zandi 1993 , Liebowitz 1993 , Horne 1994 , Day & Liebowitz 1996 ), and endogenous explanatory variables (see Ross & Yinger 1999 for a full explication of the opposition), although rejoinders suggest that the race results are affected little by these modifications ( Ross & Yinger 1999 ; S.L. Ross & G.M.B. Tootell, unpublished manuscript).

Audit research corroborates evidence of mortgage discrimination, finding that black testers are less likely to receive a quote for a loan than are white testers and that they are given less time with the loan officer, are quoted higher interest rates, and are given less coaching and less information than are comparable white applicants (for a review, see Ross & Yinger 2002 ).

In addition to investigating the race of the applicant, researchers have investigated the extent to which the race of the neighborhood affects lending decisions, otherwise known as redlining. Although redlining is a well-documented factor in the origins of contemporary racial residential segregation (see Massey & Denton 1993 ), studies after the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which outlawed redlining, and since the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which made illegal having a smaller pool of mortgage funds available in minority neighborhoods than in similar white neighborhoods, find little evidence of its persistence ( Benston & Horsky 1991 , Schafer & Ladd 1981 , Munnell et al. 1996 ). This conclusion depends in part, however, on one’s definition of neighborhood-based discrimination. Ross & Yinger (1999) distinguish between process-based and outcome-based redlining, with process-based redlining referring to “whether the probability that a loan application is denied is higher in minority neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods, all else equal” whereas outcome-based redlining refers to smaller amounts of mortgage funding available to minority neighborhoods relative to comparable white neighborhoods. Although evidence on both types of redlining is mixed, several studies indicate that, controlling for demand, poor and/or minority neighborhoods have reduced access to mortgage funding, particularly from mainstream lenders ( Phillips-Patrick & Rossi 1996 , Siskin & Cupingood 1996 ; see also Ladd 1998 for methodological issues in measuring redlining).

As a final concern, competition and deregulation of the banking industry have led to greater variability in conditions of loans, prompting the label of the “new inequality” in lending ( Williams et al. 2005 , Holloway 1998 ). Rather than focusing on rejection rates, these researchers focus on the terms and conditions of loans, in particular whether a loan is favorable or subprime ( Williams et al. 2005 , Apgar & Calder 2005 , Squires 2003 ). Immergluck & Wiles (1999) have called this the “dual-mortgage market” in which prime lending is given to higher income and white areas, while subprime and predatory lending is concentrated in lower-income and minority communities (see also Dymski 2006 , pp. 232–36). Williams et al. (2005) , examining changes between 1993 and 2000, find rapid gains in loans to under-served markets from specialized lenders: 78% of the increase in lending to minority neighborhoods was from subprime lenders, and 72% of the increase in refinance lending to blacks was from subprime lenders. Further, the authors find that “even at the highest income level, blacks are almost three times as likely to get their loans from a subprime lender as are others” (p. 197; see also Calem et al. 2004 ). Although the disproportionate rise of subprime lending in minority communities is not solely the result of discrimination, some evidence suggests that in certain cases explicit racial targeting may be at work. In two audit studies in which creditworthy testers approached sub-prime lenders, whites were more likely to be referred to the lenders’ prime borrowing division than were similar black applicants (see Williams et al. 2005 ). Further, subprime lenders quoted the black applicants very high rates, fees, and closing costs that were not correlated with risk ( Williams et al. 2005 ). 4

Not all evidence associated with credit market discrimination is bad news. Indeed, between 1989 and 2000 the number of mortgage loans to blacks and Hispanics nationwide increased 60%, compared with 16% for whites, suggesting that some convergence is taking place ( Turner et al. 2002 ). Nevertheless, the evidence indicates that blacks and Hispanics continue to face higher rejection rates and receive less favorable terms than whites of equal credit risk. At the time of this writing, the U.S. housing market is witnessing high rates of loan defaults and foreclosures, resulting in large part from the rise in unregulated subprime lending; the consequences of these trends for deepening racial inequalities have yet to be fully explored.

Consumer Markets

Relative to employment, housing, and credit markets, far less research focuses on discrimination in consumer transactions. Nevertheless, there are some salient disparities. A 2005 report by New Jersey Citizen Action using data from two New Jersey lawsuits found that, between 1993 and 2000, blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately subject to financing markup charges at car dealerships, with minority customers paying an average of $339 more than whites with similar credit histories. Harris et al. (2005) analyze federal court cases of consumer discrimination filed from 1990 to 2002, examining the dimensions of subtle and overt degradation (including extended waiting periods, prepay requirements, and higher prices, as well as increased surveillance and verbal and/or physical attacks) and subtle and overt denial of goods and services. They report cases filed in hotels, restaurants, gas stations, grocery/food stores, clothing stores, department stores, home improvement stores, and office equipment stores filed by members of many racial minority groups. Likewise, Feagin & Sikes (1994) document the myriad circumstances in which their middle-class African American respondents report experiences of discrimination, ranging from poor service in restaurants to heightened surveillance in department stores to outright harassment in public accommodations. Together, these studies suggest that discrimination in consumer markets continues to impose both psychic and financial costs on minority consumers.

Much of the empirical work on discrimination in consumer markets has focused specifically on the case of car purchases, which, aside from housing, represent one of the most significant forms of personal consumption expenditures ( Council of Economic Advisers 1997 , table B-14). 5 Ayres & Siegelman (1995) conducted an audit study in Chicago in which testers posed as customers seeking to purchase a new car, approaching dealers with identical rehearsed bargaining strategies. The results show that dealers were less flexible in their negotiations with blacks, resulting in a significant disparity in the ultimate distribution of prices (relative to white men, black men and black women paid on average $1132 and $446 more, respectively) ( Ayres 1995 ). Although analyses using microdata have come to more mixed conclusions about the relevance of race in actual car purchase prices (see Goldberg 1996 , Morton et al. 2003 ), the audit evidence suggests that simply equating information, strategy, and credit background is insufficient to eliminate the effects of race on a customer’s bargaining position.

Although much of the literature on consumer discrimination focuses on the race of the individual customer, a few studies have also investigated the effects of community characteristics on the pricing of goods and services. Graddy (1997) , for example, investigated discrimination in pricing among fast food chains on the basis of the race and income characteristics of a local area. Using information about prices from over 400 fast food restaurants, matched with 1990 census data for zip code–level income, race, crime, and population density, and controlling for a host of neighborhood, business, and state-level characteristics, the author finds that a 50% increase in a zip code’s percent black is associated with a 5% increase in the price of a meal, corresponding to roughly 15 cents per meal. The study is a useful example of how discrimination, especially in consumer markets, might be examined as a function of segregated residential patterns, suggesting a more contextualized approach to studying discrimination (see also Moore & Roux 2006 ).

Evidence of consumer discrimination points to a range of situations in which minority customers receive poorer service or pay more than their white counterparts. Although few individual incidents represent debilitating experiences in and of themselves, the accumulation of such experiences over a lifetime may represent an important source of chronic stress ( Kessler et al. 1990 ) or distrust of mainstream institutions ( Feagin & Sikes 1994 , Bobo & Thompson 2006 ). Indeed, the cumulative costs of racial discrimination are likely to be far higher than any single study can document.

WHAT CAUSES DISCRIMINATION?

Measuring the prevalence of discrimination is difficult; identifying its causes is far more so. Patterns of discrimination can be shaped by influences at many different levels, and the specific mechanisms at work are often difficult to observe. Following Reskin (2003) , in this discussion we consider influences that operate at the individual, organizational, and societal level. Each level of analysis contains its own range of dynamics that may instigate or mediate expressions of discrimination. Although by no means an exhaustive catalog, this discussion provides some insight into the range of factors that may underlie various forms of discriminatory behavior.

Intrapsychic Factors

Much of the theoretical work on discrimination aims to understand what motivates actors to discriminate along racial lines. Although internal motivations are difficult to measure empirically ( Reskin 2003 ), their relevance to the understanding and conceptualization of discrimination has been central ( Quillian 2006 ). Classical works in this area emphasized the role of prejudice or racial animus as key underpinnings of discrimination, with feelings and beliefs about the inferiority or undesirability of certain racial groups associated with subsequent disadvantaging behavior ( Allport 1954 , Pettigrew 1982 ). Conceptualizations of prejudice range from individual-level factors, such as an authoritarian personality ( Adorno et al. 1950 ) or a “taste for discrimination” ( Becker 1957 ), to more instrumental concerns over group competition and status closure ( Blumer 1958 , Blalock 1956 , Jackman 1994 , Tilly 1998 ).

Scholars have characterized changes in the nature of racial prejudice over the past 50 years—as expressed through racial attitudes— as shifting toward the endorsement of equal treatment by race and a repudiation of overt forms of prejudice and discrimination ( Schuman et al. 2001 ). Some, however, question the degree to which these visible changes reflect the true underlying sentiments of white Americans or rather a more superficial commitment to racial equality. Theories of “symbolic racism” ( Kinder & Sears 1981 ), “modern racism” ( McConahay 1986 ), and “laissez-faire racism” ( Bobo et al. 1997 ), for example, each point to the disconnect between attitudes of principle (e.g., racial equality as an ideal) and policy attitudes (e.g., government action to achieve those ideals) as indicative of limited change in underlying racial attitudes (but see Sniderman et al. 1991 for a countervailing view). These new formulations of prejudice include a blending of negative affect and beliefs about members of certain groups with more abstract political ideologies that reinforce the status quo.

Whereas sociological research on prejudice is based largely on explicit attitudes measured through large-scale surveys, psychologists have increasingly turned to measures of implicit prejudice, or forms of racial bias that operate without conscious awareness yet can influence cognition, affect, and behavior ( Greenwald & Banaji 1995 , Fazio & Olson 2003 ). Experiments in which subjects are unconsciously primed with words or images associated with African Americans reveal strong negative racial associations, even among those who consciously repudiate prejudicial beliefs. Whereas the links between explicit and implicit forms of prejudice and between implicit prejudice and behavior remain less well understood, the presence of widespread unconscious racial biases has been firmly established across a multitude of contexts (see Lane et al. 2007 ).

Parallel to the study of racial prejudice (the more affective component of racial attitudes) is a rich history of research on racial stereotypes (a more cognitive component). Whereas many general racial attitudes have shifted toward more egalitarian beliefs, the content and valence of racial stereotypes appears to have changed little over time ( Devine & Elliot 1995 , Lane et al. 2007 ). 6 White Americans continue to associate African Americans with characteristics such as lazy, violence-prone, and welfare-dependent and Hispanics with characteristics such as poor, unintelligent, and unpatriotic ( Smith 1991 , Bobo & Kluegel 1997 ). Culturally embedded stereotypes about racial differences are reflected in both conscious and unconscious evaluations ( Greenwald & Banaji 1995 ) and may set the stage for various forms of discriminatory treatment ( Farley et al. 1994 ).

Researchers differ in perspectives regarding the cognitive utility and accuracy of stereotypes. Whereas many social psychologists view stereotypes as “faulty or inflexible generalization[s]” ( Allport 1954 ), economic theories of statistical discrimination emphasize the cognitive utility of group estimates as a means of dealing with the problems of uncertainty ( Phelps 1972 , Arrow 1972 ). Group-level estimates of difficult-to-observe characteristics (such as average productivity levels or risk of loan default) may provide useful information in the screening of individual applicants. Although some important research questions the accuracy of group-level estimates (e.g., Bielby & Baron 1986 ), the mechanism proposed in models of statistical discrimination—rational actors operating under conditions of uncertainty—differ substantially from those based on racial prejudice. Indeed, much of the literature across the various domains discussed above attempts to discern whether discrimination stems primarily from racial animus or from these more instrumental adaptations to information shortages (e.g., Ayres & Siegelman 1995 ).

The various factors discussed here, including prejudice, group competition, modern racism, stereotypes, and statistical discrimination, represent just a few of the varied intrapsychic influences that may affect discrimination. It is important to emphasize, however, that the behavioral manifestation of discrimination does not allow one readily to assume any particular underlying intrapsychic motivation, just as a lack of discrimination does not presume the absence of prejudice (see Merton 1970 ). Continued efforts to measure the processes by which internal states translate into discriminatory action [or what Reskin (2003) calls a shift from “motives” to “mechanisms”] will help to illuminate the underlying causes of contemporary racial discrimination.

Organizational Factors

Beyond the range of interpersonal and intrapsychic factors that may influence discrimination, a large body of work directs our attention toward the organizational contexts in which individual actors operate. Baron & Bielby’s (1980) classic article established a central role for organizations in stratification research, arguing for a framework that links “the ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ dimensions of work organization and inequality” (p. 738). More recent theoretical and empirical advances in the field of discrimination have maintained a strong interest in the role of organizations as a key structural context shaping inequality.

Tilly’s (1998) analysis of durable inequality emphasizes the importance of organizational dynamics in creating and maintaining group boundaries. “Durable inequality arises because people who control access to value-producing resources solve pressing organizational problems by means of categorical distinctions” (p. 8). Although actors “rarely set out to manufacture inequality as such,” their efforts to secure access to valued resources by distinguishing between insiders and outsiders, ensuring solidarity and loyalty, and monopolizing important knowledge often make use of (and thereby reinforce the salience of) established categories in the service of facilitating organizational goals (p. 11). Tilly’s analysis places organizational structure at the center stage, arguing that “the reduction or intensification of racist, sexist, or xenophobic attitudes will have relatively little impact on durable inequality, whereas the introduction of new organizational forms … will have great impact” (p. 15). In line with these arguments, an important line of sociological research has sought to map the dimensions of organizational structures that may attenuate or exacerbate the use of categorical distinctions and, correspondingly, the incidence of discrimination ( Vallas 2003 ).

Much of the empirical literature exploring organizational mechanisms of discrimination has focused specifically on how organizational practices mediate the cognitive biases and stereotypes of actors ( Baron & Pfeffer 1994 ). Indeed, Reskin (2000) argues that “the proximate cause of most discrimination is whether and how personnel practices in work organizations constrain the biasing effects of… automatic cognitive processes” (p. 320). Petersen & Saporta (2004) take a bolder stance, starting with the assumption that “discrimination is widespread, and employers discriminate if they can get away with it” (p. 856). Rather than asking why employers discriminate, then, these authors look to the “opportunity structure for discrimination” (in their case, features of job ladders within organizations) that allow or inhibit the expression of discriminatory tendencies (pp. 855–56).

In the following discussion, we briefly consider several important themes relevant to the literature on organizational mechanisms of discrimination. In particular, we examine how organizational structure and practices influence the cognitive and social psychological processes of decision makers (the role of formalized organizational procedures and diversity initiatives), how organizational practices create disparate outcomes that may be independent of decision makers (the role of networks), and how organizations respond to their broader environment.

The role of formalization

One important debate in this literature focuses on the degree to which formalized organizational procedures can mitigate discrimination by limiting individual discretion. The case of the military ( Moskos & Butler 1996 ), for example, and the public sector more generally ( DiPrete & Soule 1986 , Moulton 1990 ) provide examples in which highly rationalized systems of hiring, promotion, and remuneration are associated with an increasing representation of minorities, greater racial diversity in positions of authority, and a smaller racial wage gap. Likewise, in the private sector, formal and systematic protocols for personnel management decisions are associated with increases in the representation of racial minorities ( Reskin et al. 1999 , Szafran 1982 , Mittman 1992 ), and the use of concrete performance indicators and formalized evaluation systems has been associated with reductions in racial bias in performance evaluations ( Krieger 1995 , Reskin 2000 ).

Individual discretion has been associated with the incidence of discrimination in credit markets as well. For example, Squires (1994) finds that credit history irregularities on policy applications were often selectively overlooked in the case of white applicants. Conversely, Gates et al. (2002) report that the use of automated underwriting systems (removing lender discretion) was associated with a nearly 30% increase in the approval rate for minority and low-income clients and at the same time more accurately predicted default than traditional methods. These findings suggest that formalized procedures can help to reduce racial bias in ways that are consistent with goals of organizational efficiency.

At the same time, increased bureaucratization does not necessarily mitigate discriminatory effects. According to Bielby (2000) , rules and procedures are themselves subject to the influence of groups inside and outside the organization who “mobilize resources in a way that advances their interests,” with competition between groups potentially undermining the neutrality of bureaucratic procedures ( Bielby 2000 , p. 123; see also Ross & Yinger 2002 , Acker 1989 ). Additionally, there is evidence that formalized criteria are often selectively enforced, with greater flexibility or leeway applied in the case of majority groups ( Wilson et al. 1999 , Squires 1994 ). Likewise, indications of racial bias in performance evaluations cast doubt on the degree to which even formalized assessments of work quality can escape the influence of race ( McKay & McDaniel 2006 ). The degree to which formalization can reduce or eliminate discrimination, thus, remains open to debate, with effects depending on the specific context of implementation.

Diversity initiatives

Since the passage of Title VII in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, most large organizations have taken active steps to signal compliance with antidiscrimination laws. Deliberate organizational efforts to address issues of discrimination (or the perception thereof), either in disparate treatment or disparate impact, often are labeled as diversity initiatives, and these practices are widespread. Winterle (1992) cites a 1991 survey of organizations demonstrating that roughly two-thirds provided diversity training for managers, half provided a statement on diversity from top management, and roughly one-third provided diversity training for employees and/or had a diversity task force (see also Wheeler 1995 , Edelman et al. 2001 ). Not all such initiatives, however, have any proven relationship to actual diversity outcomes. Kalev et al. (2006) examine the efficacy of active organizational efforts to promote diversity, focusing specifically on three of the most common organizational practices: the implementation of organizational accountability by creating new positions or taskforces designed specifically to address diversity issues, managerial bias training, and mentoring and network practices. They find that practices designed to increase organizational authority and accountability are the most effective in increasing the number of women and minorities in management positions. Networking and mentoring programs appear somewhat useful, whereas programs focused on reducing bias (e.g., diversity training) have little effect. These results suggest that organizational initiatives to reduce racial disparities can be effective, but primarily when implemented with concrete goals to which organizational leadership is held accountable. 7

Taking a broader look at race-targeted employment policies, Holzer & Neumark (2000) investigate the effects of affirmative action on the recruitment and employment of minorities and women. They find that affirmative action is associated with increases in the number of recruitment and screening practices used by employers, increases in the number of minority applicants and employees, and increases in employers’ tendencies to provide training and formal evaluations of employees. Although the use of affirmative action in hiring is associated with somewhat weaker credentials among minority hires, actual job performance appears unaffected.

The role of networks

In addition to examining how organizational policies and practices shape the behavior of decision makers and gatekeepers, researchers must acknowledge that some mechanisms relevant to the perpetuation of categorical inequality might operate independently of the actions of individuals. Indeed, many organizational policies or procedures can impose disparate impact along racial lines with little direct influence from individual decision makers. The case of networks represents one important example. The role of networks in hiring practices is extremely well documented, with networks generally viewed as an efficient strategy for matching workers to employers with advantages for both job seekers (e.g., Granovetter 1995 ) and employers (e.g., Fernandez et al. 2000 ). At the same time, given high levels of social segregation (e.g., McPherson et al. 2001 ), the use of referrals is likely to reproduce the existing racial composition of the company and to exclude members of those groups not already well represented ( Braddock & McPartland 1987 ). In an analysis of noncollege jobs, controlling for spatial segregation, occupational segregation, city, and firm size, Mouw (2002) finds that the use of employee referrals in predominantly white firms reduces the probability of a black hire by nearly 75% relative to the use of newspaper ads. 8 Petersen et al. (2000) using data on a high-technology organization over a 10-year period find that race differences in hiring are eliminated when the method of referral is considered, suggesting that the impact of social networks on hiring outcomes is strong and may be more important than any direct action taken by organization members. Irrespective of an employer’s personal racial attitudes, the use of employee referrals is likely to reproduce the existing racial composition of an organization, restricting valuable employment opportunities from excluded groups (see also Royster 2003 , Waldinger & Lichter 2003 ).

Networks and network composition may matter not only for the purposes of obtaining information and referrals for jobs, but also within jobs for the purposes of informal mentoring, contacts, and relevant information important to advancement ( Ibarra 1993 , Grodsky & Pager 2001 ). Mechanisms of homosocial reproduction, or informal preferences for members of one’s own group, can lead to network configurations of informal mentorship and sponsorship that contribute to the preservation of existing status hierarchies ( Kanter 1977 ; see also Elliot & Smith 2001 , Sturm 2001 ). The wide-ranging economic consequences that follow from segregated social networks corresponds to what Loury (2001 , p. 452) refers to as the move from “discrimination in contract” to “discrimination in contact.” According to Loury, whereas earlier forms of discrimination primarily reflected explicit differences in the treatment of racial groups, contemporary forms of discrimination are more likely to be perpetuated through informal networks of opportunity that, though ostensibly race-neutral, systematically disadvantage members of historically excluded groups.

Organizations in context

Much of the research discussed above considers the organization as a context in which decisions and procedures that affect discriminatory treatment are shaped. But organizations themselves are likewise situated within a larger context, with prevailing economic, legal, and social environments conditioning organizational responses ( Reskin 2003 ). When labor markets expand or contract, organizations shift their recruitment and termination/retention strategies in ways that adapt to these broader forces (e.g., Freeman & Rodgers 1999 ). When antidiscrimination laws are passed or amended, organizations respond in ways that signal compliance ( Dobbin et al. 1993 ), with the impact of these measures varying according to shifting levels or strategies of government enforcement ( Kalev & Dobbin 2006 , Leonard 1985 ). At the same time, organizations are not merely passive recipients of the larger economic and legal context. In the case of the legal environment, for example, organizations play an active role in interpreting and shaping the ways that laws are translated into practice. Edelman (1992) , Dobbin et al. (1993) , and Dobbin & Sutton (1998) have each demonstrated ways in which the U.S. federal government’s lack of clear guidance regarding compliance with antidiscrimination laws and regulations allowed organizations to establish and legitimate their own compliance measures. According to Edelman (1992 , p. 1542), “organizations do not simply ignore or circumvent weak law, but rather construct compliance in a way that, at least in part, fits their interests.” Organizational actors, then, can wind up playing the dual role of both defining and demonstrating compliance, with important implications for the nature, strength, and impact of antidiscrimination laws and likewise for the patterns of discrimination that emerge in these contexts.

Organizations occupy a unique position with respect to shaping patterns of discrimination. They mediate both the cognitive and attitudinal biases of actors within the organization as well as the influence of broader economic and legal pressures applied from beyond. Recognizing the specific features of organizational action that affect patterns of discrimination represents one of the most important contributions of sociological research in this area. To date, the vast majority of organizational research has focused on the context of labor markets; investigations of organizational functioning in other domains (e.g., real estate, retail sales, lending institutions) would do much to further our understanding of how collective policies and practices shape the expression of discrimination.

Structural Factors

The majority of research on discrimination focuses on dynamics between individuals or small groups. It is easiest to conceptualize discrimination in terms of the actions of specific individuals, with the attitudes, prejudices, and biases of majority group members shaping actions toward minority group members. And yet, it is important to recognize that each of these decisions takes place within a broader social context. Members of racial minority groups may be systematically disadvantaged not only by the willful acts of particular individuals, but because the prevailing system of opportunities and constraints favors the success of one group over another. In addition to the organizational factors discussed above, broader structural features of a society can contribute to unequal outcomes through the ordinary functioning of its cultural, economic, and political systems (see also National Research Council 2004 , chapter 11). The term structural discrimination has been used loosely in the literature, along with concepts such as institutional discrimination and structural or institutional racism, to refer to the range of policies and practices that contribute to the systematic disadvantage of members of certain groups. In the following discussion, we consider three distinct conceptualizations of structural discrimination, each of which draws our attention to the broader, largely invisible contexts in which group-based inequalities may be structured and reproduced.

A legacy of historical discrimination

This first conceptualization of structural discrimination stands furthest from conventional definitions of discrimination as an active and ongoing form of racial bias. By focusing on the legacies of past discrimination, this emphasis remains agnostic about the relevance of contemporary forms of discrimination that may further heighten or exacerbate existing inequalities. And yet, the emphasis on structural discrimination—as opposed to just inequality— directs our attention to the array of discriminatory actions that brought about present day inequalities. The origins of contemporary racial wealth disparities, for example, have well-established links to historical practices of redlining, housing covenants, racially targeted federal housing policies, and other forms of active discrimination within housing and lending markets (e.g., Massey & Denton 1993 ). Setting aside evidence of continuing discrimination in each of these domains, these historical practices themselves are sufficient to maintain extraordinarily high levels of wealth inequality through the intergenerational transition of advantage (the ability to invest in good neighborhoods, good schools, college, housing assistance for adult children, etc.) ( Oliver & Shapiro 1997 ). According to Conley (1999) , even if we were to eliminate all contemporary forms of discrimination, huge racial wealth disparities would persist, which in turn underlie racial inequalities in schooling, employment, and other social domains (see also Lieberson & Fuguitt 1967 ). Recent work based on formal modeling suggests that the effects of past discrimination, particularly as mediated by ongoing forms of social segregation, are likely to persist well into the future, even in the absence of ongoing discrimination (see Bowles et al. 2007 , Lundberg & Startz 1998 ).

These historical sources of discrimination may become further relevant, not only in their perpetuation of present-day inequalities, but also through their reinforcement of contemporary forms of stereotypes and discrimination. As in Myrdal’s (1944) “principle of cumulation,” structural disadvantages (e.g., poverty, joblessness, crime) come to be seen as cause, rather than consequence, of persistent racial inequality, justifying and reinforcing negative racial stereotypes (pp. 75–78). Bobo et al. (1997 , p. 23) argue that “sharp black-white economic inequality and residential segregation…provide the kernel of truth needed to regularly breathe new life into old stereotypes about putative black proclivities toward involvement in crime, violence, and welfare dependency.” The perpetuation of racial inequality through structural and institutional channels can thus be conducive to reinforcing negative racial stereotypes and shifting blame toward minorities for their own disadvantage (see also Sunstein 1991 , p. 32; Fiske et al. 2002 ).

Contemporary state policies and practices

This second conceptualization of structural discrimination accords more with conventional understandings of the term, placing its emphasis on those contemporary policies and practices that systematically disadvantage certain groups. Paradigmatic cases of structural discrimination include the caste system in India, South Africa under apartheid, or the United States during Jim Crow—each of these representing societies in which the laws and cultural institutions manufactured and enforced systematic inequalities based on group membership. Although the vestiges of Jim Crow have long since disappeared in the contemporary United States, there remain features of American society that may contribute to persistent forms of structural discrimination (see Massey 2007 , Feagin 2006 ).

One example is the provision of public education in the United States. According to Orfield & Lee (2005 , p. 18), more than 60% of black and Latino students attend high poverty schools, compared with 30% of Asians and 18% of whites. In addition to funding disparities across these schools, based on local property taxes, the broader resources of schools in poor neighborhoods are substantially limited: Teachers in poor and minority schools are likely to have less experience, shorter tenure, and emergency credentials rather than official teaching certifications ( Orfield & Lee 2005 ).At the same time, schools in high poverty neighborhoods are faced with a greater incidence of social problems, including teen pregnancy, gang involvement, and unstable households ( Massey & Denton 1993 ). With fewer resources, these schools are expected to manage a wider array of student needs. The resulting lower quality of education common in poor and minority school districts places these students at a disadvantage in competing for future opportunities ( Massey 2006 ).

A second relevant example comes from the domain of criminal justice policy. Although evidence of racial discrimination at selective decision points in the criminal justice system is weak ( Sampson & Lauritsen 1997 ), the unprecedented growth of the criminal justice system over the past 30 years has had a vastly disproportionate effect on African Americans. 9 Currently, nearly one out of three young black men will spend time in prison during his lifetime, a figure that rises to nearly 60% among young black high school dropouts ( Bonczar & Beck 1997 , Pettit & Western 2004 ). Given the wide array of outcomes negatively affected by incarceration—including family formation, housing, employment, political participation, and health—decisions about crime policy, even when race-neutral in content, represent a critical contemporary source of racial disadvantage ( Pattillo et al. 2003 , Pager 2007b , Manza & Uggen 2006 ).

These examples point to contexts in which ostensibly race-neutral policies can structure and reinforce existing social inequalities. According to Omi & Winant (1994) , “through policies which are explicitly or implicitly racial, state institutions organize and enforce the racial politics of everyday life. For example, they enforce racial (non)discrimination policies, which they administer, arbitrate, and encode in law. They organize racial identities by means of education, family law, and the procedures for punishment, treatment, and surveillance of the criminal, deviant and ill” (p. 83). Even without any willful intent, policies can play an active role in designating the beneficiaries and victims of a particular system of resource allocation, with important implications for enduring racial inequalities.

Accumulation of disadvantage

This third category of structural discrimination draws our attention to how the effects of discrimination in one domain or at one point in time may have consequences for a broader range of outcomes. Through spillover effects across domains, processes of cumulative (dis)advantage across the life course, and feedback effects, the effects of discrimination can intensify and, in some cases, become self-sustaining.

Although traditional measures of discrimination focus on individual decision points (e.g., the decision to hire, to rent, to offer a loan), the effects of these decisions may extend into other relevant domains. Discrimination in credit markets, for example, contributes to higher rates of loan default, with negative implications for minority entrepreneurship, home ownership, and wealth accumulation ( Oliver & Shapiro 1997 ). Discrimination in housing markets contributes to residential segregation, which is associated with concentrated disadvantage ( Massey & Denton 1993 ), poor health outcomes ( Williams 2004 ), and limited educational and employment opportunities ( Massey & Fischer 2006 , Fernandez & Su 2004 ). Single point estimates of discrimination within a particular domain may substantially underestimate the cumulative effects of discrimination over time and the ways in which discrimination in one domain can trigger disadvantage in many others.

In addition to linkages across domains, the effects of discrimination may likewise span forward in time, with the cumulative impact of discrimination magnifying initial effects. Blau & Ferber (1987) , for example, point to how the channeling of men and women into different job types at career entry “will virtually ensure sex differences in productivity, promotion opportunities, and pay” (p. 51). Small differences in starting points can have large effects over the life course (and across generations), even in the absence of continuing discrimination [for a rich discussion of cumulative (dis)advantage, see DiPrete & Eirich (2006) ].

Finally, anticipated or experienced discrimination can lead to adaptations that intensify initial effects. Research points to diminished effort or valuation of schooling ( Ogbu 1991 ), lower investments in skill-building ( Farmer & Terrell 1996 ), and reduced labor force participation ( Castillo 1998 ) as possible responses to perceived discrimination against oneself or members of one’s group. These adaptations can easily be coded as choices rather than constraints, as characteristics to be controlled for in estimates of discrimination rather than included as one part of that estimate. And yet, for an understanding of the full range of effects associated with discrimination, these indirect pathways and self-fulfilling prophesies should likewise be examined (see Loury 2002 , pp. 26– 33).

A focus on structural and institutional sources of discrimination encourages us to consider how opportunities may be allocated on the basis of race in the absence of direct prejudice or willful bias. It is difficult to capture the structural and cumulative consequences of discrimination using traditional research designs; advances in this area will require creative new approaches (see National Research Council 2004 , chapter 11). Nevertheless, for an accurate accounting of the impact of discrimination, we must recognize how historical practices and contemporary policies may contribute to ongoing and cumulative forms of racial discrimination.

Discrimination is not the only cause of racial disparities in the United States. Indeed, persistent inequality between racial and ethnic groups is the product of complex and multifaceted influences. Nevertheless, the weight of existing evidence suggests that discrimination does continue to affect the allocation of contemporary opportunities; and, further, given the often covert, indirect, and cumulative nature of these effects, our current estimates may in fact understate the degree to which discrimination contributes to the poor social and economic outcomes of minority groups. Although great progress has been made since the early 1960s, the problem of racial discrimination remains an important factor in shaping contemporary patterns of social and economic inequality.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We thank Barbara Reskin, Douglas Massey, Frank Dobbin, and Lincoln Quillian for their generous comments and suggestions. Support for this research came from grants from NSF (SES-0547810) and NIH (K01-HD053694). The second author also received support from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

1 Dovidio & Gaertner (2000) also examined changes over time, comparing parallel data collected at two time points, 1989 and 1999. Although the level of self-reported prejudice declined significantly over the decade, the extent of discrimination did not change.

2 Field experiments that rely on contact by mail (rather than in person) are referred to as correspondence studies. Although these studies are typically limited to a more restricted range of job openings than are in-person audit studies, and although the signaling of race is some what more complicated (see Fryer & Levitt 2004 for a discussion of the race-class association among distinctively African American names), these studies are not vulnerable to the concerns over experimenter effects that are relevant in in-person studies (see Heckman 1998 ). For a review of correspondence studies in international contexts, including a range of ethnic groups, see Riach & Rich (2002) .

3 Asian renters and homebuyers experienced similar levels of consistent adverse treatment, though the effects were not statistically significant for renters. The highest levels of discrimination among the groups was experienced by Native American renters, for whom reduced access to information comprised the bulk of differential treatment ( Turner & Ross 2003a , b ).

4 See Stuart (2003) for a useful discussion of how economic risk became defined in the mortgage lending industry and how this approach has impacted discrimination.

5 There is also a growing literature in economics that focuses on online auctions (e.g., eBay®), allowing researchers to test theories about consumer discrimination in more highly controlled (but real-world) environments (e.g., List 2004 ).

6 Indeed, social psychological research points to the hardwired tendency toward categorization, with preferences for in-groups and the stereotyping of out–groups a natural outgrowth of human cognition ( Fiske 1998 ). Although the social context certainly shapes the boundaries of social groups and the content of stereotypes, this cognitive impulse likely contributes to the resilience of social categorization and stereotypes ( Massey 2007 ).

7 Note, however, that the creation of new positions for diversity management may have its own disadvantages, inadvertently diverting minority employees away from more desirable management trajectories. Collins (1989 , 1993 ), for example, finds that upwardly mobile blacks are frequently tracked into racialized management jobs or into jobs that specifically deal with diversity issues, with black customers, or with relations with the black community. According to Collins, these jobs are also characterized by greater vulnerability to downsizing and fewer opportunities for advancement.

8 Mouw (2002) does not find evidence that this sorting process affects aggregate employment rates, although the segregation of job opportunities is itself associated with racial differences in job quality and stability ( Parcel & Mueller 1983 ).

9 The case of drug policy and enforcement is one area for which evidence of direct racial discrimination is stronger (see Beckett et al. 2005 , Tonry 1995 ).

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT

The authors are not aware of any biases that might be perceived as affecting the objectivity of this review.

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Unlawful discrimination examples

1.1 disability, direct discrimination.

Example 1 A school finds out that a pupil has been diagnosed as autistic and immediately excludes him from the school play as they suspect he will ‘not be able to cope’ . This is likely to be unlawful direct disability discrimination.

Example 2 A school plans a trip to a natural history museum. A pupil with Down’s syndrome is excluded from the trip as the school believes she will not be able to participate in the activities provided by the museum for school groups. This is likely to be unlawful direct disability discrimination.

Example 3 The admissions tutor for an independent school interviews an applicant who has cerebral palsy which makes her speech unclear. The tutor assumes that the applicant also has learning difficulties and refuses to admit her as he thinks she will be unable to cope with the highly academic environment of the school. This is likely to be unlawful discrimination arising from disability.

Indirect discrimination

Example 1 A pupil with cerebral palsy who is a wheelchair user is told she will be unable to attend a school trip to a local theatre putting on a production of a play she is currently studying in English, because the building is not wheelchair accessible. The pupil and her parents are aware that the play is also on at a theatre in a neighbouring city which is accessible but the school does not investigate this option. This is likely to be direct discrimination because of a disability.

Examples of failure to make reasonable adjustments

  • A deaf pupil who lip-reads is at a substantial disadvantage because teachers continue speaking while facing away from him to write on the board.
  • A pupil with dyslexia is told she cannot have her teacher’s lesson notes, and that she should take notes during lessons 'like everyone else'.

Read more information on disability discrimination .

A mixed sex school attempts to maintain a gender balance in the school by admitting one sex and not another when places are limited. This is likely to be direct sex discrimination and to be unlawful.

Indirect sex discrimination

A school provides a work placement in joinery with a local firm. The school states that it is necessary for any applicant for this course to have taken woodwork at the school as an option in their design and technology course. There is a significant under-representation of girls on both the design and technology course and the woodworking option within that, so this could be considered indirect sex discrimination as it will put girls at a particular disadvantage. In the same school, if pupils want to undertake a work placement in fashion and fabric design, and it is not necessary for them to have undertaken the textiles option in design and technology, this could be a valid comparator to demonstrate indirect sex discrimination..

Read more information on gender discrimination .

Direct discrimination example

After a fight in the school playground between Asian and White pupils, an independent school limits the time the Asian pupils involved in the fight can spend in the playground during lunch hour but does not impose a similar restriction on the White pupils. If ethnicity is one of the causes of the disadvantageous treatment of this group of pupils, this is likely to be direct racial discrimination.

Indirect discrimination example

A school bans 'cornrow' hairstyles as part of its policies on pupil appearances. These hairstyles are more likely to be adopted by specific racial groups. Hence a blanket ban is likely to constitute indirect discrimination because of race as it is unlikely to be objectively justified and proportionate. The criteria although indirectly discriminatory are very close to direct discrimination, in particular if it only applies to a small group of individuals.

A pupil from an Irish Traveller background overhears a teacher on a number of occasions making racial slurs about gypsies and travellers stating their site should be shut down and they were ‘trouble’. This is likely to be harassment related to the protected characteristic of race.

Read more information on racial discrimination .

1.4 Religion or belief

Example 1 A Muslim pupil asks for some flexibility in the school timetable to fit in with his religious commitments linked to the month of Ramadan. He asks not to have to participate in physical education classes held in the afternoon during the month of Ramadan when he will be fasting. This request is denied and he is required to attend PE classes in the afternoon. Another pupil requests some flexibility in the timetable to fit in with his confirmation classes at his church. He is permitted to leave class half an hour early on Fridays. This is likely to be unlawful direct discrimination against the first pupil because of religion or belief.

Example 2 A Catholic school excludes a pupil who has turned away from the Catholic faith and declared himself an atheist. This is likely to be unlawful direct discrimination because of religion or belief.

Example 1 A school requires male pupils to wear a cap as part of the school uniform. Although this requirement is applied equally to all pupils, it has the effect of excluding Sikh boys whose religion requires them to wear a turban. This is likely to be indirect discrimination because of religion and belief as it is unlikely that the school would be able to justify this action.

Example 2 A school instigates a policy that no jewellery should be worn. A young woman of the Sikh religion is asked to remove her Kara bangle in line with this policy, although the young woman explains that she is required by her religion to wear the bangle. This could be unlawful indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion and belief.

Read more information on discrimination against religion and belief .

1.5 Sexual orientation

Example 1 During a PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education) lesson, a teacher describes homosexuality as 'unnatural' and 'depraved' and states he will only be covering heterosexual relationships in the lesson. A bisexual pupil in the class is upset and offended by these comments. As harassment doesn’t apply to the protected characteristic of sexual orientation in schools, this is likely to be unlawful direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Example 2 A pupil who is gay is offered a place at an independent school on the condition that he hides his sexual orientation and pretends that he is straight (heterosexual). This is likely to be unlawful direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Example 3 A sixth form pupil is bullied for being bisexual and although he reports the bullying to a teacher no action is taken as the teacher believes that it is just a bit of banter and he deserves 'some teasing' if he is going to say he is bisexual. This is likely to be unlawful direct discrimination because of sexual orientation, rather than harassment.

Read more information on discrimination against sexual orientation .

1.6 Transgender

A pupil undergoing gender reassignment is told she will not be able to attend the school camp because they do not have any suitable toilet facilities. This is likely to be less favourable treatment because of gender reassignment, which would constitute direct discrimination.

Read more information on discrimination against transgender .

2. Equality success stories

Case 1 - pregnancy.

Pregnant women in the armed forces will be given greater protection from discrimination after a ruling by the Employment Tribunal in 2010. The Equality and Human Rights Commission funded the case brought by a female officer against the Royal Air Force in which she claimed she was removed from her job and had her promotion prospects delayed because she was pregnant.

A law firm represented the officer, who was on a posting in the Falkland Islands when she informed her superiors that she was 12 weeks pregnant. Her request to stay on in her desk-based job was denied, despite her husband, who was also a RAF officer, being based on the Island and she was ordered to return to the UK immediately.

As she wanted to be with her husband during her pregnancy she was forced to take leave to return to the Falkland Islands. This meant she missed out on a performance review which delayed her promotion prospects.

The Tribunal found that the officer had been discriminated against because of pregnancy and awarded her more than £16,000. The Tribunal also recommended that the Ministry of Defence:

  • carry out an individual risk assessment for each pregnant woman and consider adjusting their role to enable them to remain in their post,
  • establish a monitoring process in respect of any removal of a pregnant woman from her post; and
  • undertake a performance appraisal for each pregnant woman commencing maternity leave.

Case 2 - sex

In 2010, more than 4,000 female council workers have won the right to be paid the same as their male colleagues in a case which could lead to payouts worth about £200m.

An employment tribunal found in favour of female workers employed by Birmingham city council in 49 different jobs, including lollipop ladies and cleaners, who complained of being excluded from bonuses – worth up to 160% of their basic pay – paid to men.

All the women were employed in traditionally female-dominated roles, such as cleaning, care and catering, as well as administrative jobs. During the seven-week hearing, the tribunal heard how a man doing the same pay-graded job as a woman could earn four times more than her.

Under a bonus scheme, male refuse collection staff sometimes received up to 160% of their basic pay. In one year a refuse collector took home £51,000, while women on the same pay grade received less than £12,000.

Unions described the women's victory as a 'major' case which could encourage other female public sector workers to bring similar claims.

Case 3 - religion and belief

In 2008 a Muslim girl was awarded £4,000 after the owner of a hair salon refused to employ her because she wears a headscarf.

Bushra Noah, 19, who was rejected for 25 hairdressing jobs, had accused Sarah Desrosiers of discrimination after she failed to offer her a position in May last year. Ms Desrosiers, 32, said she needed staff to display their hairstyles to customers at the Wedge salon in King’s Cross, North London.

Mrs Noah, of Acton, West London, applied for a job as a junior assistant. When she arrived at the salon she claimed that the owner was shocked that she wore a headscarf. Ms Desrosiers told the court she was surprised that Mrs Noah had not mentioned it. She said she needed stylists to reflect the 'funky, urban' image of her salon.

The panel found that Mrs Noah had been badly upset by the 15-minute interview and awarded her £4,000 damages for 'injury to feelings'.

Case 4 - sexual orientation

In 2010 a gay couple won their discrimination claim against the owners of a hotel in a landmark judgment in the Bristol County Court in a case which was funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The judge's ruling in one of the first legal cases taken under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 means that people in civil partnerships will have greater protection from discrimination.

Civil partners Martyn Hall and Steve Preddy sued the owners of the Chymorvah Private Hotel in Cornwall on the grounds they were not allowed to share a double room because they were a gay couple.

The hotel owners, Peter and Hazel Bull, are devout Christians who do not allow couples who are not married to share double rooms because they do not believe in sex before marriage. Mr. and Mrs. Bull maintained that their refusal to accommodate civil partners in a double room was not to do with sexual orientation but 'everything to do with sex'. The owners said the restriction applied equally to heterosexual couples who are not married.

Judge Rutherford ruled that the hotel had directly discriminated against the couple on the ground of their sexual orientation and awarded them compensation of £1,800 each.

Case 5 - age

In 2011, former BBC presenter Miriam O’Reilly won her age discrimination case against the BBC after she was dropped from BBC1's rural affairs show, Countryfile.

O'Reilly, 53, took the BBC to court claiming discrimination after she was one of four female presenters, all in their 40s or 50s, who were dropped from the 23-year-old show. O'Reilly was dropped from the show, along with Charlotte Smith, Juliet Morris and Michaela Strachan, when it was moved from Sunday mornings to a new peak-time slot in April 2009.

The BBC said it chose new 'second tier' presenters for Countryfile over O'Reilly because they had 'substantial network profile that might attract primetime audience' - but the court ruled that this was not the case. 'We consider age to be a significant factor in the decision not to consider O’Reilly.'

In the course of her evidence to the court O'Reilly claimed a Countryfile director had warned her 'to be careful with those wrinkles when high definition comes in' nine months before she was axed.

The tribunal said: 'The wish to appeal to a prime-time audience, including younger viewers, is a legitimate aim. However, we do not accept that it has been established that choosing younger presenters is required to appeal to such an audience,' the judgment stated.

The presenter, who received compensation from the BBC as a result of this verdict, told MediaGuardian.co.uk: 'Words cannot describe how happy I feel. It's historic and it's going to have huge implications for all broadcasters.'

In light of the court’s ruling, the BBC said it would give additional training to senior editorial executives and issue new guidance on the fair selection of presenters.

3. Positive action example

For more information about positive action, refer to  the Commission's guidance .

Tackling underachievement among ethnic minority boys

A London school experienced issues with under achievement and behaviour among some ethnic minority pupils, particularly boys. It was felt that this was fuelled by issues around deprivation, low expectations within families about schooling and English as a second language.

To take corrective action, the school worked with a charity to develop a project that would improve behaviour, raise aspiration and facilitate a more positive attitude to learning. For one day every two weeks, the boys visited the charity to work with youth workers, who got them involved in positive activities, such as using role-play to resolve conflict, producing plans for their futures and looking at barriers to success and ways in which to overcome these.

Pupils benefited from two terms of work and the evaluation showed that the students attendance to school, academic performance, behaviour and progression all improved.

4. Public sector equality duty examples

For more information about the public sector equality duty, refer to  the Commission's guidance .

Raising participation / tackling gender stereotyping in sports, both within the curriculum and in out-of-school activities

An Academy in North East England, with mixed sex students, decided that it needed to take action on extremely low levels of participation in sports by female pupils. They also recognised that gender stereotyping in sport for all pupils needed to be tackled. At this time they offered a very limited and 'traditional' sports curriculum and there was a culture of separating male and female pupils for teaching.

The school put together a new equality plan for how they could tackle the issues and this was sent to all stakeholders for input, including school governors, parents, the police and other external agencies.

The equality plan involved:

  • Developing a partnership with a local sports college to help tackle the problem of an under-resourced PE department and to conduct a review of the PE curriculum and extra-curricular activities provided.
  • Offering an enhanced range and quality of PE and sports provision, including a fitness gym, dance, out of school mountain biking etc.
  • Ensuring equality of opportunity for all pupils by making all activities open to female and male pupils.

The schools work on tackling inequality in sports had a significant impact across the school, on both male and female pupils. There was a marked increase in female participation in sport, both in and out of school. There was also a knock on effect on other types of outcomes for all pupils e.g. alertness, concentration, confidence and self-esteem.

Developing a disability equality scheme in a secondary school helps staff and students address discrimination across all strands

In developing its disability equality scheme, Framwellgate (secondary) School in Durham set up a disability equality group drawn from pupils, governors, parents, as well as teaching, support and administrative staff. The majority of group members have a disability or care for a disabled child. The group’s first step was to review school policies. A good amount of time was allocated for this process to enable wide engagement and involvement. Text could also be prepared which was jargon free and pupil friendly. The pupil representatives got feedback from fellow pupils by holding focus groups. By taking enough time, the school felt that it gained a much better understanding of its duties and responsibilities as well as a more thorough appreciation of disability and its impact on pupils, parents and staff.

After this initial review work, the group felt able to develop its action plan and disability equality scheme. This now has wide ownership across the school and is integrated into the business of the organisation. A significant outcome has been the development and self-confidence of the student members. They were treated as equal members of the group and they received formal notice and minutes of meetings, were able to attend meetings in lesson times, and were invited to chair meetings. This has hugely increased the confidence and involvement of the pupils. The pupils have:

  • successfully bid to the governors for money to implement the action plan
  • developed and presented a fully-costed business plan to the group and amended these plans following their own risk assessment
  • evaluated and bought products for the school (disability awareness posters) having negotiated with staff for their display in the achievement centre and the library
  • secured funds from the school business manager for refurbishment of the peer support meeting room.

When the time came to review the scheme, the group decided to widen the terms of reference to include gender and race issues, as well as other issues such as homophobic bullying.

5. Reasonable adjustment duty examples

Use of technology to enable college to support disabled students.

Stanmore College installed accessible software on all of their computers to assist disabled students. They provided students with Alphasmart word processors which have proved to be very useful with dyslexic students for taking notes. The College developed a more effective means of recording illness such as cancer / diabetes and epilepsy as well as severe allergies so that students can be properly supported both in class and during examinations.

All students who have disclosed a disability or an illness are risk assessed. The new Health and Safety Policy and Procedure also ensure that students are well supported if an emergency arises.

Last updated: 16 May 2016

case studies on discrimination

Discrimination and Harassment Case Study Analysis

  • July 7, 2020
  • Attorney Info

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Case studies about discrimination in the workplace

In August of 2018, a young woman was hired to become the shipping manager for a small printing company. She is 26 years old, has a boyfriend that she is living with, and has plans to get married and have children, eventually. The general manager of the company was not included in resume selection, interview process, or the training of the young woman, but did do an initial welcome interview when she was hired. After he had met with her and had some time to get to know her a little bit, he was disgruntled at the human resources manager for hiring someone who would need time off for a wedding and for children sometime in the future. He approached the human resources manager and told her “Next time you decide to hire someone, hire a young able-bodied man so we don’t have to worry about him taking time off for personal reasons”. The tricky part in this scenario is that the general manager did not actually say these things to the female employee but to the female human resources manager. The comments that were said, made the female human resource manager uncomfortable because she too, may have a future situation like the one he is ridiculing the shipping manager for.

            This young woman was discriminated against since she was planning for her future as a wife and a mother. Regardless of her plans, or any female employed by the company, the discrimination took place because she is a woman, and once she decides to have children, she will need to utilize medical leave in order to give birth to her children. The human resources manager also shares in the same scenario, to which the GM has now openly given his criticism. The general manager in this case has decided that she would not be a good fit for the position because she will have weightlifting limitations and will have to take time off work. His comments and actions are sexist because he has already decided that she is not fit for the position for reasons that have not even happened yet.  The comments made by the manager could potentially be a serious liability for the company, and an immediate investigation must be done to determine whether or not legal action should be taken against him. According to a case settlement against the Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. in 2015, The company continued to discriminate between 2006 thru 2014, whereas the company subjected countless women to sexual harassment and/or various forms of sex discrimination . Con Edison was blatantly discriminating against women Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “This agreement sends a clear message to employers across New York State: All women, including those working in male-dominated workplaces, are entitled to equal justice under the law.” United States EEOC (Press Release 9-2015). Although this case is an extreme example, it gives a clear understanding of how the behavior of the general manager is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This case is one of the thousands of different scenarios that continue to happen daily.  

Investigating Discriminatory Actions

            A case like the example shown is a lot easier to investigate because it was extreme discrimination and most of the circumstances were well documented. However, as shown by the amount of time that these women were given disparate treatment, it took many years to finally determine that Con Edison was engaging in illegal actions. The situation that is occurring with the new female shipping manager, as well as the human resources manager, will continually be more difficult to prove sexual discrimination, and senior management will have a difficult time trying to prove the blatant abuse of power by the general manager. According to a recent study, “researchers surveyed about 6,000 U.S. military employees, and in their findings, they showed that reporting incidents of harassment often triggered retaliation. Under such conditions, it’s no wonder that for many of these employees, the most “reasonable” thing to do was to avoid reporting.” (Dessler, G., 2016). At this point, the shipping manager is not aware of the statements made by the GM, but the comments made by him have put the human resources manager in an uncomfortable position, as the comments that were made could potentially be directed at her in the near future as well.

In situations such as this, employers are legally obligated to investigate complaints (harassment, discrimination, retaliation , safety, and ethics) in a timely manner. In addition, any appropriate corrective action is required to be taken by the employer to ensure illegal actions and behaviors cease immediately. (SHRM, 2018). One major problem with this case is that it has yet to happen. The comments made by the general manager have not come into play yet, but if and or when it does, he will have violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. This law was put in place in order to protect women’s rights in the workforce. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, therefore, “Women affected by a pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work”. (EEOC, 1978).  

The human resources department has been put in place to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equally, and to make sure that equal opportunity employment always occurs. The role of human resources management involves documentation of employee grievances, terminations, absences, performance reports, timekeeping of vacation and sick time, and compensation and benefits information. When any type of sexual discrimination or harassment happens, it is typically reported to the HR administration. In this case, however, the HR manager has been indirectly discriminated against, so an outside investigator should be.

Author: Sarah Hendriksen from West Valley City

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What is the difference between discrimination and harassment?

Discrimination is when someone treats you differently because of certain characteristics. These characteristics could include race, color and national origin as well as religion.

Harassment is unwelcome behavior and can sometimes be illegal. Harassment can include something said, written, or physical contact. They create a hostile atmosphere and are deliberate in their acts.

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case studies on discrimination

2020 brought a wave of discrimination and harassment allegations against major companies like Amazon, McDonald's, and Pinterest. These are some of the year's high-profile legal battles.

  • The #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements have exploded in recent years, shedding light on systemic racial and gender bias across American society, and in particular, within American workplaces.
  • In 2020, workers spoke publicly in increasing numbers, often by taking their employers to court over pay disparities, harassment and abuse, and toxic company cultures.
  • Major businesses including Google, Amazon, McDonald's, Pinterest, and Johnson & Johnson faced new legal battles this year over allegations of racism and sexism.
  • Here are the highest-profile racial and gender discrimination, harassment, and sexual abuse lawsuits that were filed in 2020 against US companies and executives or that added new plaintiffs.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

Insider Today

American workplaces have long been hotbeds of discrimination and harassment, particularly for those who aren't white, light-skinned, male, straight, single, young, able-bodied Americans.

Since 2000, 99% of Fortune 500 companies have paid settlements in at least one discrimination or sexual harassment lawsuit, according to a report from Good Jobs First , and that's not including the cases without a public record or incidents victims didn't report .

Even though there are laws against pay discrimination , US companies on average still pay women just $0.82 for every dollar they pay men, and pay women of color even less — and executives have made virtually no progress in closing wage gaps across the country since the early 2000s . In 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received more than 7,500 sexual harassment complaints, and 72,000 complaints about racial, sex, age, religious and other types of discrimination.

In recent years, however, empowered in part by the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements , American workers are increasingly turning to the courts to hold their employers accountable for breaking civil rights laws and demand companies fix racist, sexist, ageist, ableist, and other biased pay practices and work environments.

Since 2018, companies like Google , Uber, Fox News , Riot Games , UPS , Coca-Cola , and Target have paid out multimillion-dollar settlements, and this year brought an even larger wave of high-profile cases.

Here are some of the major workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation lawsuits that workers filed against America's largest companies in 2020, as well as cases where new plaintiffs joined.

Amazon was accused in lawsuits this year of having hiring practices and COVID-19 safety measures that were racially biased, as well as discriminating against a pregnant transgender man.

case studies on discrimination

  • February: Former hiring manager Lisa McCarrick sued Amazon after her manager allegedly asked her to stalk job applicants' social media accounts to determine their race and gender, and then fired her when she complained. [ NBC News ]
  • October:  Shaun Simmons, a transgender man, claimed in a lawsuit that he faced harassment and retaliation while working at Amazon and was demoted and denied a promotion after telling his manager he was pregnant. [ NBC News ]
  • November: Former Amazon warehouse employee Chris Smalls sued Amazon over its pandemic response, claiming it violated civil rights laws by failing to protect Black, Brown, and immigrant warehouse workers from COVID-19 while looking out for its mostly white managers. [ Business Insider ]
  • November:  Denard Norton, a Black Amazon warehouse employee, sued the company accusing it of denying him promotions based on race and ignoring his repeated complaints about coworkers' racist remarks. [ NJ.com ]

Bloomberg LP was hit by lawsuits accusing it of aiding and abetting Charlie Rose's sexual harassment, as well as racial and gender bias in its pay and promotion practices.

case studies on discrimination

  • June: Two women who had accused ex-CBS News host Charlie Rose of sexual harassment also sued Bloomberg for "aiding and abetting" Rose, who operated his independently owned studio out of Bloomberg's New York headquarters. [ The Hollywood Reporter ]
  • August: Former Bloomberg reporter Nafeesa Syeed sued the company for pay and promotion practices that were allegedly "top-down" and systemically biased against women of color. [ HR Dive ]

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a private philanthropy run by Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, was sued by employees who claimed Black employees are "underpaid, undervalued, and marginalized."

case studies on discrimination

  • November: ex-CZI employee Ray Holgado sued the nonprofit, claiming he was consistently denied promotion and growth opportunities, and was treated differently because of his race. [ Business Insider ]

Disney was sued in 2019 over gender-based pay discrimination, and multiple additional women joined the lawsuit this year.

case studies on discrimination

  • March : Chelsea Henke became the tenth Disney executive to join a lawsuit filed against the company in April 2019 that alleged "rampant gender pay discrimination." [ LA Times ]

Facebook became the subject of a federal complaint alleging the company is biased against Black employees and candidates.

case studies on discrimination

  • July: While not a formal lawsuit, a Facebook recruiter and two rejected job applicants filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing Facebook of "racial discrimination" against Black workers and applicants "in hiring, evaluations, promotions, and pay." [ Business Insider ]

Fox News ex-host Ed Henry was accused of sexual assault, while hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Howard Kurtz, and Gianno Caldwell were all accused of harassment in a lawsuit by a former producer.

case studies on discrimination

  • July: Former Fox Business producer Jennifer Eckhart claimed in a lawsuit that ex-host Ed Henry violently raped her, and that Fox News knew and refused to discipline him, while former Fox guest Cathy Areu alleged she was sexually harassed by Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Howard Kurtz, and Gianno Caldwell. [ Business Insider ]

Goldman Sachs allegedly covered up sexual misconduct by a top lawyer, and the woman who spoke publicly about it sued, claiming the company retaliated against her.

case studies on discrimination

  • October:  Former Goldman Sachs employee Marla Crawford claimed one of the bank's top lawyers, Darrell Cafasso, sexually harassed a female subordinate and that Goldman covered up the allegations and retaliated against her for trying to speak publicly about it. [ Business Insider ]

Google ex-employees who sued the company in 2017 over gender pay disparities asked the court this year to expand their case to include 10,800 additional coworkers.

case studies on discrimination

  • July: Four employees who sued Google in 2017, alleging women at the company are paid about $16,794 less than men in similar positions, asked the court to grant their lawsuit class action status, which would allow them to represent 10,800 other female Google employees. [ Business Insider ]

Hearst, the parent company of Esquire magazine, was sued by an ex-executive at Esquire who claimed she faced gender and age discrimination from her former boss.

case studies on discrimination

  • September:  Former Esquire ad executive Lauren Johnson, 52, sued Hearst, the magazine's parent company, claiming she faced age and gender discrimination as well as retaliation for complaining, and that her boss Jack Essig "regularly mocked" older employees and female workers. [ Business Insider ]

Johnson & Johnson was sued by an ex-exec who claimed she faced "sexist, harassing and demeaning" behavior from male coworkers due to her gender and sexual orientation.

case studies on discrimination

  • December: Gina Bilotti, a high-ranking 25-year veteran of Johnson & Johnson, sued the company, claiming she had endured years of discrimination, harassment, abuse, and retaliation on the basis of her gender and sexual orientation. [ NJ.com ]

Marriott was sued by a Black ex-employee who claimed he was fired in retaliation for complaining about racist behavior by coworkers.

case studies on discrimination

  • July:  Kaseam Seales, formerly a bellhop at a Marriott hotel in New Jersey, claimed the company fired him in retaliation for complaining that his coworkers were exhibiting racist behavior toward him, and that they consistently gave more lucrative shifts to white bellhops. [ Providence Journal ]

McDonald's is facing two racial discrimination lawsuits from Black franchisees as well as a class action sexual harassment suit, and could be on the hook for billions of dollars in damages.

case studies on discrimination

  • April: McDonald's employees filed a $500 million sexual harassment class-action lawsuit against the company, claiming they faced physical and verbal harassment from coworkers and customers. [ Business Insider ]
  • August:  52 Black ex-franchisees filed a $1 billion racial-discrimination lawsuit against McDonald's, claiming the company sent them on "financial suicide missions" by pushing them to open stores in less profitable locations, eventually cutting the number of Black franchisees by 50% over the past two decades. [ Business Insider ]
  • October:  In a separate class action suit, current Black franchisees said they faced a "pipeline of discrimination" from McDonald's, which allegedly imposed "two standards" for white and black owners, giving white franchisees better opportunities while being more strict with Black owners on safety inspections. [ Business Insider ]

Morgan Stanley's first diversity officer sued the bank over claims of racial discrimination and retaliating against employees who tried to make its culture more inclusive.

case studies on discrimination

  • June:  Marilyn Booker, Morgan Stanley's first diversity officer, claimed in a racial-discrimination lawsuit that the bank retaliated against her and other Black female employees and eventually fired her for trying to make the bank's workforce more diverse and inclusive. [ The Washington Post ]

The NCAA was sued by HBCU athletes who claimed the organization's academic performance policies are biased against their schools.

case studies on discrimination

  • December:  Athletes from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association, college sports' governing body, claiming its academic performance standards — which are ostensibly meant to improve graduation rates — simply ended up discriminating against their schools, and thus disproportionately impacted Black student athletes. [ NPR ]

Oracle was sued in 2017 by female employees over gender pay disparities, and a court earlier this year opened the class action to more than 4,000 other current and former employees.

case studies on discrimination

  • May:  Three female Oracle employees sued the company in 2017, claiming it paid women less than men, citing an economists' study that found the pay gap averaged $13,000 per year. This year, a court granted the case class action status, opening the door for more than 4,000 current and former employees to join the suit. [ The Mercury News ]

Pinterest recently paid a former executive $22.5 million to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit and is facing another from shareholders over alleged racial and gender discrimination.

case studies on discrimination

  • August: Ex-Pinterest COO Françoise Brougher filed a gender-bias lawsuit against the company, claiming she faced pay discrimination and sexist behavior from other executives. Pinterest paid $22.5 million in December to settle the suit. [ Business Insider ]
  • December: Following Brougher's lawsuit and explosive allegations by dozens of current and former employees , Pinterest shareholders sued the company, accusing it of harming investors by creating and perpetuating a culture of racial and sex discrimination. [ Business Insider ]

Uber was sued by a driver who claimed the company's five-star rating system is racially biased.

case studies on discrimination

  • October: Thomas Liu, a former Uber driver, sued the company after it kicked him off the platform because his driver rating had fallen below a 4.6 out of 5. He claimed Uber's use of the system amounted to "intentional race discrimination" because of the "widely recognized" notion that racism often slips into customers' evaluations of workers. [ Business Insider ]

Warner Bros. was sued by a former executive who alleged she faced gender discrimination and harassment from men in the company's senior ranks, which she called an "old boys club."

case studies on discrimination

  • October: An ex-Warner Bros. executive sued the company over gender discrimination, claiming she was fired in retaliation for raising complaints about sexist behavior and harassment by male executives. [ Deadline ]

WeWork was hit with at least three lawsuits from former employees alleging harassment, discrimination, and that a manager intimidated an employee by, among other things, bringing a crossbow and knives to work.

case studies on discrimination

  • July:  WeWork became the subject of three new gender and race discrimination and harassment lawsuits this year, including from an employee who claimed her boss brought a crossbow and knives to work, implied he had connections to the Mafia, and made unwanted sexual advances. Two Black employees also said they were paid less than white coworkers and faced retaliation for raising issues, with one also saying she was sexually harassed. [ Business Insider ]

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) or visit its website to receive confidential support.

case studies on discrimination

  • Main content

Nearly half of health care workers have witnessed racism, discrimination, report shows

case studies on discrimination

At a Pennsylvania hospital, a Black nurse said her emergency room colleagues routinely withheld pain medication from Black patients who sought relief from sickle cell disease.

In Montana, a phlebotomist said fellow health care workers often made "ignorant comments" about the hospital's Native American patients.

Both of these accounts surfaced in a report this week from the Commonwealth Fund and the African American Research Collaborative, based on interviews with thousands of workers who shared their experiences at hospitals and health facilities under the condition they not be identified in the groups' findings. Researchers surveyed 3,000 health care workers in what authors described as a first-of-its-kind effort to quantify whether employees see discrimination within their workplace. The five categories of health facilities included hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient care such as urgent care centers, mental health and addiction treatment centers and community or school health centers.

Nearly half of health care workers at these facilities witnessed discrimination against patients in their workplace. Younger and Black or Latino health care workers were more likely than their older or white counterparts to say they noticed discrimination against patients.

Among the key findings in the survey: 47% of U.S. health care workers said they witnessed discrimination against patients, and 52% said that racism against patients was a major problem. In addition, employees at health facilities with a higher percentage of Black or Latino patients witnessed higher rates of discrimination. At hospitals with a majority of Black patients, 70% of workers said they witnessed discrimination against patients based on their race or ethnicity. For hospitals with mostly Latino patients, that figure was 61%.

The report's findings show that discrimination against patients is a problem, said Dr. Laurie Zephyrin, a senior vice president for advancing health equity at the Commonwealth Fund who co-authored the report.

"It is something that needs to be addressed," said Zephyrin. "It is something that not only affects patients but also affects health care workers. It creates stress."

Doctors not involved in the report said the effort to quantify discrimination in health care settings is important.

Yolanda Lawson, a Dallas obstetrics and gynecology specialist, is president of the National Medical Association, which represents Black physicians. She said the report validates what many physicians and other health care workers know to be true – that discrimination and bias exist in health care settings.

"It's important to quantify it and put it in a more credible format," Lawson said. For "many physicians and health care workers of color, it's not uncommon for us to recognize it or call it out."

Younger workers more likely to spot discrimination

The phone and online survey was conducted from March 14 through April 5, 2023. It collected replies from more than two dozen types of health care workers, including doctors, nurses, licensed practical nurses, dentists, medical assistants, dental hygienists, physician assistants, mental health workers and administrators.

The survey "oversampled" Black, Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander health care workers to ensure a large enough sample size to yield a smaller margin of error, said Henry Fernandez, chief executive officer of African American Research Collaborative and lead author of the report.

Among other findings, the report's authors said the generational divide among health care workers was telling, with 59% of workers younger than 40 facing stress due to discrimination compared with 26% of workers 60 or older. Younger workers were more aware of discrimination or more likely to see signs of it.

Zephyrin said discrimination is a "critical area to address" to attract and keep workers during a widespread shortage of health care workers.

Fernandez said the likelihood that younger workers notice discrimination against patients is "one thing that really stood out for me."

He described it as a pivotal area to focus on, especially as the health care industry hires and trains young workers to address chronic workforce shortages.

The report suggested several fixes to address discrimination in health care, including training medical staff to spot discrimination and requiring nursing, medical and other health schools to require classes about discrimination. Another proposal: create a method for patients and health care workers to anonymously report discrimination. The report suggested health care systems take on this task to encourage workers and patients to report instances of discrimination and racism while protecting the identity of the person who complains.

Hospitals and other facilities also should examine how they treat non-English speakers. Latino health workers said patients who speak languages other than English are not always treated equally, the report said.

A lesson in respect

Another finding has also resonated for many from the study: Nearly half of the health workers surveyed said their colleagues are more accepting of white patients when they advocated for their care than of Black patients. Overall, 48% of health care workers cited the disparate treatment for patients who advocated for themselves, the report said.

Zephyrin said differing treatment for patients who advocate for themselves is concerning. In an ideal setting, patients should be encouraged to ask questions and notify a supervisor when a doctor or nurse isn't responding to their needs, Zephyrin said.

But the report suggests that when patients attempt to advocate for themselves, they may be treated differently based on their race.

Lawson, the Dallas specialist, said when she was in her third year of medical school, she noticed how some doctors talked over patients and failed to listen to their concerns. As a student, she was with a group of other medical students, young doctors and a teaching physician at a Veterans Administration hospital.

The doctor instructing the medical students and resident doctors described the medical care at the bedside of an elderly Black veteran. The veteran was confused by what the doctors were discussing, and nobody took the time to explain any of it to him, Lawson recalled.

As the group of resident doctors and medical students rounded to the next patient, the man held out his hand for Lawson, the only Black person in the group.

"He asked, 'What did they say?'" Lawson said.

She explained the results of the man's X-Ray and other details of his treatment for multiple chronic conditions. It's a lesson she retained and applied throughout her professional career – and one she relays to young doctors.

"You talk to the patient. You include them in their care," Lawson said. "That's all I really hope for, (that) everyone who interfaces with the health care system is respected."

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How discrimination, class, and gender intersect to affect Black Americans’ well-being

TeKisha Rice and Brian Ogolsky

Black Americans experience racial discrimination as a chronic stressor that influences their quality of life. But it exists in conjunction with other social factors that may modify the impact in various ways. A new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign explores how discrimination, gender, and social class affect individual well-being and relationship quality for Black Americans.

“It’s well documented that discrimination negatively impacts individual quality of life, but research on how it affects relationships is mixed. Some studies find it has a negative effect, others that it has no effect, and some even find a positive effect, such as more partner support. We were interested in how intersecting dimensions of sexism and classism could provide more insights,” said lead author TeKisha Rice , now an assistant professor at Virginia Tech . Rice conducted the research as a doctoral student at the U. of I. Brian Ogolsky, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies , part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at U. of I., is a co-author on the paper, which is published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Rice and Ogolsky found that racial discrimination and financial strain were associated with lower levels of psychological well-being. However, the anticipated interaction between factors varied by gender.

“We found that among women who had higher levels of financial strain, racial discrimination predicted lower levels of quality of life, but this association did not show up for men in the study,” Rice said. “There is a gender dynamic in the way discrimination affects psychological and relational well-being. This aligns with other research indicating that Black women, in particular, may take on more of the emotional labor of their relationships.”

The researchers used data from the Survey of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS), a large-scale, longitudinal study that measures health and psychological well-being in individuals across the U.S. They included respondents who identified as Black or African American, and who were married or cohabitating. Participants ranged from 27 to 83 years old, with an average age of 53, and all were in heterosexual relationships.

The findings also speak to the potential resilience of Black individuals in the face of discrimination, the researchers said.

“One of the theories we use to understand the results is the Mundane Extreme Environmental Stress (MEES) model, which states that racial discrimination is mundane because it is common, but also extreme because of the negative impact that it can have on people's lives,” Rice noted. “As people get older, the way they respond to discrimination may be different. Perhaps they have gotten used to ignoring it, or they have effective coping mechanisms in place already.”

This can help explain the non-significant findings for Black men in this dataset, which had a large proportion of middle-aged respondents.

In addition, there are different types and levels of discrimination, Ogolsky added. “A single, major discriminatory event could influence well-being differently than low-level chronic discrimination. We need to think about these events with a fine-toothed comb, looking at both frequency and salience of discrimination.”  

As the MEES theory indicates, Black Americans may come to expect discrimination as a part of life. But the chronic stress of financial strain might be felt in material ways that impact relationship experiences.

“For example, a couple may have to talk about bills and figure out how to ration expenses. It’s not that financial strain is more negative than discrimination, but it may be felt more directly on a day-to-day basis,” Ogolsky stated.

Future studies should explore the gender differences in how Black Americans are navigating or experiencing racial discrimination. For practitioners who work with couples, it’s important to be attentive to how each partner might be responding differently to discrimination and the ways it can generate potential distress, the researchers concluded. 

The paper , “Discrimination, Gender, and Class: An Intersectional Investigation of Black Americans’ Personal and Relational Well-Being,” is published in the Journal of Family Psychology [DOI: 10.1037/fam0001173 ].  

This research was completed as a part of the first author’s dissertation, funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (Grant No. DGE -1144245).

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How discrimination, class, and gender intersect to affect Black Americans' well-being

by Marianne Stein, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

black men

Black Americans experience racial discrimination as a chronic stressor that influences their quality of life. However, it exists in conjunction with other social factors that may modify the impact in various ways. A new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign explores how discrimination, gender, and social class affect individual well-being and relationship quality for Black Americans.

"It's well documented that discrimination negatively impacts individual quality of life, but research on how it affects relationships is mixed. Some studies find it has a negative effect, others that it has no effect, and some even find a positive effect, such as more partner support. We were interested in how intersecting dimensions of sexism and classism could provide more insights," said lead author TeKisha Rice, now an assistant professor at Virginia Tech.

Rice conducted the research as a doctoral student at the U. of I. Brian Ogolsky, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at U. of I., is a co-author of the paper, which is published in the Journal of Family Psychology .

Rice and Ogolsky found that racial discrimination and financial strain were associated with lower levels of psychological well-being. However, the anticipated interaction between factors varied by gender.

"We found that among women who had higher levels of financial strain, racial discrimination predicted lower levels of quality of life , but this association did not show up for men in the study," Rice said. "There is a gender dynamic in the way discrimination affects psychological and relational well-being. This aligns with other research indicating that black women , in particular, may take on more of the emotional labor of their relationships."

The researchers used data from the Survey of Midlife in the United States (MIDUS), a large-scale, longitudinal study that measures health and psychological well-being in individuals across the U.S. They included respondents who identified as Black or African American, and who were married or cohabitating. Participants ranged from 27 to 83 years old, with an average age of 53, and all were in heterosexual relationships.

The findings also speak to the potential resilience of Black individuals in the face of discrimination, the researchers said.

"One of the theories we use to understand the results is the Mundane Extreme Environmental Stress (MEES) model, which states that racial discrimination is mundane because it is common but also extreme because of the negative impact that it can have on people's lives," Rice noted. "As people get older, the way they respond to discrimination may be different. Perhaps they have gotten used to ignoring it, or they have effective coping mechanisms in place already."

This can help explain the non-significant findings for black men in this dataset, which had a large proportion of middle-aged respondents.

In addition, there are different types and levels of discrimination, Ogolsky added. "A single, major discriminatory event could influence well-being differently than low-level chronic discrimination. We need to think about these events with a fine-toothed comb, looking at both frequency and salience of discrimination."

As the MEES theory indicates, Black Americans may come to expect discrimination as a part of life. However, the chronic stress of financial strain might be felt in material ways that impact relationship experiences.

"For example, a couple may have to talk about bills and figure out how to ration expenses. It's not that financial strain is more negative than discrimination, but it may be felt more directly on a day-to-day basis," Ogolsky stated.

Future studies should explore the gender differences in how Black Americans are navigating or experiencing racial discrimination. For practitioners who work with couples, it's important to be attentive to how each partner might be responding differently to discrimination and the ways it can generate potential distress, the researchers concluded.

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APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ)

NJ law serves as model in workplace discrimination cases, study says

T he 2019 New Jersey law that banned non-disclosure agreements in workplace harassment and abuse cases has allowed employees to openly discuss their cases without reducing the amounts of complaints that get filed or making financial settlements less lucrative or harder to obtain.

That's according to a recently released impact study of the law.

These findings challenge the notion that NDAs are essential tools needed to bargain with employees during conflicts, according to Gretchen Carlson, co-founder of Lift Our Voices, a nonprofit working to make workplaces safer for employees.

“New Jersey's ban on NDAs can serve as a model for other states seeking to empower survivors of workplace misconduct and create a more equitable environment for all employees,” Carlson said. Carlson’s Lift Our Voices Co-Founder Julie Roginsky added, “At a time when transparency in the workplace is the key to protecting survivors of workplace misconduct, these results underscore the New Jersey law's success in protecting the voices of survivors and fostering safer and more equitable work environments.” 

S121 NJ Legislature (state.nj.us) made New Jersey the first state in the country to ban NDAs in workplace discrimination cases, including sexual harassment and sexual assault.

More: Job Stacking Isn't Unethical; It's a Viable Path to a Livable Wage, Says Leading CEO Zach Wade

Lift Our Voices commissioned the impact study, which was paid for by the Ford Foundation and conducted by Penn State Professor Mark Gough. In the report " Breaking the Silence: Stakeholder Experiences with New Jersey’s Non-Disclosure Agreement Ban ," Gough sought to determine whether the ban had gone too far and burdened businesses, hadn’t gone far enough to protect victims of toxic workplace behavior, or created any unintended consequences.

Gough interviewed 28 people: eight employees who filed complaints about bad conduct; eight employers or their representatives; and 12 attorneys, six who represent employees and six who represent businesses.

In addition to finding that the lack of NDAs empowered plaintiffs to talk about their stories while not being a barrier to settle their complaints, employers' surveys acknowledged the law didn’t affect their ability to operate their businesses – although some did so in a decidedly backhanded way.

“It’s a nothing-burger,” said one defense attorney. “My clients have more important things to worry about.”

More: Timeline: How Trump was indicted after probe into payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels

One thing made clear by the study is that public awareness that the NDA ban exists is low for everyone except employment-law attorneys, which is why one of the study’s main findings is to better educate employees and employers about it. Only one of the eight employees interviewed knew about the ban before they hired an attorney and only one of the employers knew about it before they were contacted to be part of the study.

The study recommends that policymakers in other states considering such bans talk to business owners and human resource officers directly and not rely on special-interest groups that purport to represent business interests. Also, existing laws could be improved that explicitly prohibit non-disparagement clauses, part of an NDA that prevents parties from speaking bad about the other. Attorneys in New Jersey disagree as to whether S121 allows or prohibits the clauses.

Employees appreciate the freedom they have to publicly speak about their experiences without an NDA. One woman in her mid-20s who was sexually harassed said, “People need to know what they did to me. I don’t want anyone else to be at the center of that abuse. I want to tell the world, ‘Don’t work there, don’t work for him, run.’ And I do.” 

'We’re afraid': NJ domestic workers describe exploitation, call for bill of rights

One business owner said they’re against the ban because it can harm them. “A claim of sexual harassment is just that, a claim. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter what happened. If you’re a single mother of three and cry in front of a jury, what chance do I stand? That’s reality. That’s business. And that’s why I’m against it.”

The employees and employers agreed on one thing – that they think the employment litigation system is unfair – but their reasoning was very different. Employees and their lawyers pointed to the emotional difficulty of going through the process, while employees and their attorneys said it’s hard to defend themselves against emotionally charged claims.

“This seems to color stakeholders’ desired improvements to New Jersey’s legislation,” the study concludes. “Whereas employees and plaintiff lawyers suggest strengthening damages and expanding the scope of S121, employers and defense lawyers tend to advocate for the status quo or a complete rescission of the law.”

More education about the law, tightening its language, speaking to individuals over group spokespeople and improving data sets on workplace harassment cases will help. “Doing so will balance employers’ legitimate interests in protecting trade secrets with the public’s interest in accountability for toxic experiences at work while allowing survivors to retain ownership over their stories, experiences and voice,” the study notes.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: NJ law serves as model in workplace discrimination cases, study says

3 Ocean County companies forbidden from NJ contracts for not paying workers comp fines

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