• Reports

Civil Rights in Their Own Voices: Situated Justice

March 2012

The Employment Civil Rights Project is generating findings on the changing dynamics of employment discrimination litigation, the types of cases that succeed in litigation, and the parties’ perceptions of anti-discrimination law. The first publication using the qualitative data from this project, “Situated Justice: A Contextual Analysis of Fairness and Inequality in Employment Discrimination Litigation,” by Ellen Berrey, Steve G. Hoffman, and Laura Beth Nielsen, was published in the Law & Society Review in March 2012. Readers can listen to some of the audio clips from the interviews to hear the data in respondents’ “own voices” (literally). The 22 audio clips below are listed in the order they appear in the article.

Please note that the text of the quoted passages may be shorter than the audio clips and may be edited so that they are easier to read. All names used are pseudonyms.

Quote #1, Harold Ward

White, male, in-house counsel and human resources officer for a manufacturing company

“You know what?  If you want to sue me, sue me. Lots of people have sued me. You won’t be the first, and you probably won’t be the last. But there’s some things you need to understand. You need to understand that I have a job and I get paid every day. And your lawsuit is just a job to me.  Do I want to win?  I want to win everything I do. I am a Type A, competitive person. But if I don’t win, my world doesn’t stop. And I still get paid.”

Quote #2, Don Gale

White, male, in-house counsel for a research company

“Most cases, I don’t say they’re totally frivolous . . . I really don’t believe any of our cases [were cases] where the other side had sufficient merit.”

Quote #3, Nicole Price

White, female, general counsel for a health care non-profit

“Often times it’s somebody may have made a remark to somebody that that person took offense to… We have tended to be very successful on those because a lot of people don’t understand. They take it to extremes, you know. They hear one remark and … get very upset or they feel like they can’t tell their supervisor, so they’ll actually file a complaint, but those typically aren’t going to be found to be discriminatory… Yelling at an employee is not discrimination, but, you know, some people believe that it should be.”

Quote #4, Marilyn Cole

White, female, in-house counsel and corporate officer for a finance corporation

“Here’s what I hear from our managers, who’ve been involved in these situations, is that they complain to me that the system isn’t fair. That we have to hire these attorneys and we have to pay this money and… go through this process and the employee has no skin in the game. And if, you know, if they lose, then it doesn’t seem fair that they shouldn’t have to pay.”

Quote #5, David Lever

White, male, in-house counsel for a transportation company

“I’ve never seen overt discrimination. I think it is something that does still happen, but I think it’s pretty unusual, pretty rare. I’ve questioned managers at times… “Are you sure [that discrimination did not occur]?”… I think that 98, 99% of the time, [discrimination did not occur].”

Quote #6, Don Gale

White, male, in-house counsel for a research organization

“The management’s position is if the misconduct or the bad performance is established, whatever disciplinary action is appropriate will be taken.”

Quote #7, Kristin Hamilton

African-American, female, chemist

“I went [to the company’s internal EEO office], and of course they said they were going to investigate, but how do you investigate yourself? … There’s not an outside [agency] doing it. They’re [the employer is] doing it. So then I did go to EEOC and filed a complaint, and then that’s when they gave me the letter to sue.”

Quote #8, Marjorie Turner

African-American, female, secretary

“I mean, I really did go [to the state department of human rights] naively thinking that they were going to do what I thought was their mission, and that was to protect the rights, your civil rights. And what I found is that consistently they don’t do that…. In fact, I just wrote a letter to ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] about the department of human rights and the fact that they don’t accept evidence that the victim wants to present to them…. They don’t return calls. I had an investigator who was really rude to me on the phone [and] did not interview me at all before having the fact-finding conference.”

Quote #9, Gerry Handley

African-American, male, computer operator

“They thought that I was just, like, this black man that was stupid and that they could just do whatever they wanted…. I had a good case. And I knew that. I would write stuff down and I’d keep it and I would confirm it by telling the people that this happened…. And they kept it a secret for me. It’s a good case, but the legal system didn’t work. It didn’t help me. I fell through the cracks.”

Quote #10, Jimmy Williams

African-American, male, laborer

“I lost everything, you know, and given the fact that, like I said, I’ve never been arrested for anything, I’m thinking the law exists for everybody. You know how they say it’s ‘justice’? It’s ‘Just us.’ Not justice for all… ‘Just us.’”

Quote #11, Sam DeLuca

White, male, policy analyst

“I did what I could do to fight what I thought was an action that was sort of improper…. I don’t want to say that it’s, that cliché, you had your day in court or whatever. But it’s like, okay, you know this wasn’t right and I was able to do something.”

Quote #12, Krista Hewick

White, female, in-house counsel and HR officer for a product manufacturer

“In nearly 100 percent of the cases, the employee who has got this problem has no idea that I’m involved at all. Because when you add lawyers to a mix, it’s like putting gas on the flame. So what we do is I will talk to the HR person and I’ll say, ‘Okay, tell me what happened…. What do you need to accomplish here to make a resolution that everybody can work with? And here are the rules.’ …. My job is to establish…. the boundaries of the playing field. ‘Now your job as the HR person is to figure out where you want to start the play…. where you want to put the ball.’”

Quote #13, Harold Ward

White, male, in-house counsel and human resources officer for a manufacturing company

“If I don’t win, my world doesn’t stop. And I still get paid. It’s going to become your single focus in life and it’s going to keep you from getting a job because future employers are going to see this seething pot and they’re not going to want to have anything to do with you. So before you sue me, you ought to think about that.”

Quote #14, Floyd Kelly

African-American, male, market analyst

“I said, ‘If you’re my attorney and you’re working for me and with me supposedly. The reason I hired you in the first place is because I don’t know legal things. I expect for you to tell me the legal things and true legal things because you and I are supposed to be partners. Even though you work for me, we’re still partners.’”

Quote #15, Peter Nicholson

White, male, police lieutenant

“If you want to know how I feel about the legal system right now, [the system] has nothing to do with a regular guy like me…. I have no business being there…. [I]f you don’t have an extra $100,000, $200,000 to throw away, you don’t belong in the legal
system. That’s the way I feel now.

Quote #16, Chris Burns

African-American, male, machinist for the military

(Mrs. Burns) “I got so, you know, depressed. They send you through all this red-tape gobbledy-goo, and they say these big 25-cents words. And you know without a lawyer degree that you don’t understand a thing that they are telling you.”

Quote #17, Gerry Handley

African-American, male, computer operator

“I lost my wife and my family and my home. I had a million-dollar home at that time…. My wife left me…. because I became unbearable to be around. And I lost my kids.”

Quote #18, Lois Smith

White, female, foreman of engineers

“They kept trying to turn it around to me, me, me…. It’s unbelievable what they do to you…. This stuff was allowed to come out that was so ludicrously untrue.”

Quote #19, Lois Smith

White, female, foreman of engineers

“Honestly there is no such thing as a fair lawsuit. I mean, it’s who plays a better game.”

Quote #20, Troy Pedlow

“We’re here to make a profit…. The sooner you can get rid of a case, the better. Obviously, the cheaper you can get rid of a case, the better…. I mean, this isn’t rocket science…. Certain cases that are absolutely meritless, even though it’s not the
right cost-benefit analysis, you’ll fight. Whatever it takes, you’ll fight, because sometimes you just need to send the message.”

Quote #23, Sam Grayson

White, male, police officer

“I didn’t want any money. I wanted my job back…. [T]o be completely honest with you, [I] cried and…. felt like I lost because it wasn’t about the money.”

Quote #24, Chris Burns

African-American, male, computer operator

“[The court] say my doctor was late getting them the letter. For 12 years, I been fighting! …. For me to fight for 12 years, and you going to tell me [I lost] because I was late with a letter? …. I don’t care if it was late or early. [My doctor is] still saying the same thing.”