Sandra Sperino’s Let’s Pretend Discrimination is a Tort, 75 Ohio St. L.J. 1107 (2014), argues that if the United States Supreme Court is really serious about treating Title VII and other federal anti-discrimination laws as nothing more than extensions of tort law, then the current Supreme Court’s anti-plaintiff approach is insupportable. Sperino does not hide her personal disapproval of the current trend to “tortify” federal anti-discrimination law (especially Title VII), but she recognizes that the fight against discrimination may have to be fought “through any means necessary” (to quote Malcolm X, not Sperino). So her article is a bit legal jujitsu – to take the Supreme Court’s most favored tool to weaken Title VII, and to use it to make federal anti-discrimination law friendlier to plaintiffs than it has ever been.
In this essay I review the three attributes of common law tort that Sperino finds especially useful for her project of expanding the reach of federal anti-discrimination law. I then raise questions about Sperino’s assumption about common law tort. The features found in tort law that Sperino finds so congenial are not universal features of common law tort, but only found in those parts of tort that are concerned with one’s right to bodily integrity and security in land. Does it therefore make sense to argue (as Sperino does) – even for rhetorical purposes – that the interests Congress chose to protect in federal anti-discrimination law are akin to bodily integrity and security interests, or, rather (as I argue), more like other interests protected quite differently in tort, such as economic interests and interests in emotional tranquilty? Continue reading "What Happens if We Call Discrimination a Tort?"
William Corbett, Unmasking a Pretext for Res Ipsa Loquitur: A Proposal to Let Employment Discrimination Speak for Itself, 62 Am. U.L. Rev.
— (forthcoming, 2013), available at SSRN
In this article Professor William Corbett does an excellent job of explaining the “tortification” of discrimination law and how the McDonnell Douglas analysis can be viewed as a form of the res ipsa loquitur doctrine. Professor Corbett’s analysis of this issue provides a fresh look at a well-known tort doctrine, and its possible application to discrimination law.
In the first part of his article, Professor Corbett examines how employment discrimination has been transformed by tort law over time. He explains how, subsequent to the passage of Title VII, tort law has been “vigorously infused” into discrimination doctrine. Professor Corbett traces how this transformation has occurred over time — looking at how tort law principles can be found in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins and section 1981a of the Civil Rights Act of 1991. He also demonstrates how the move toward tort law can be found in the types of claims being pursued by plaintiffs, as well as the limited availability of the class action mechanism for workforce victims. Finally, looking at a number of more recent Supreme Court cases, he shows how tort principles now play a major role in employment discrimination cases. Continue reading "Res Ipsa Loquitur & Employment Discrimination?"
Sandra F. Sperino, Discrimination Statutes, The Common Law, and Proximate Cause
, 2013 U. Illinois L. Rev.
1 (forthcoming 2013) available at SSRN
As courts increasingly import principles from common law torts into discrimination cases, Sandra Sperino’s new article, Discrimination Statutes, The Common Law, and Proximate Cause, is a welcome addition to a growing body of work pushing back against this trend. Her focus is on the Supreme Court’s recent forays into proximate cause in connection with federal employment statutes. Laying out the problems of the proximate cause doctrine and the features of statutory protections from employment discrimination, Sperino demonstrates that importing proximate cause is undesirable and an obstacle to enforcing Congress’ careful balance in enacting these statutes.
The article begins by describing what proximate cause is. Although the theoretical underpinnings of proximate cause are notoriously muddled, Sperino demonstrates that in a variety of ways, the doctrine appears to limit the reach of particular torts, depending on the type of tort at issue. As she notes, proximate cause is applied primarily in negligence actions in situations with multiple physical causes, where a potential plaintiff is far removed from the conduct of the defendant, or as a way to define the policy goals of the underlying cause of action. For intentional torts, proximate cause plays a much more limited role, in part because the actor’s state of mind makes the actor more blameworthy, and we are willing to extend liability farther. Continue reading "Dis-torting Discrimination Law"
Sandra F. Sperino, Rethinking Discrimination Law
(forthcoming Mich. L. Rev. 2011), available on SSRN
Employment discrimination law is a big, confusing mess. That probably doesn’t come as a shock to most readers of this site. The discrimination literature is filled with attempts to vilify, clarify, or unify the existing law in this area. In her forthcoming article, Rethinking Employment Discrimination Law, Professor Sandra F. Sperino displays little interest in doing either of the latter. But she’s also clearly interested in doing more than just vilifying the existing state of affairs.
Sperino begins by noting the development of the familiar frameworks or rubrics that courts use to evaluate discrimination claims. Of course, we are talking about McDonnell Douglas, Griggs, et al. She argues that “discrimination analysis has been reduced to a rote sorting process,” with the result being that “the key question in modern discrimination cases is often whether the plaintiff can cram his or her facts into a recognized structure and not whether the facts establish discrimination.” (P. 2.) This approach raises at least two problems. First, it results in a huge expenditure of (arguably wasted) time and effort on the part of judges, lawyers, and litigants. Second – and the problem Sperino primarily focuses on – is that the approach results in courts failing to recognize or even consider new theories of discrimination. In other words, by focusing so heavily on the frameworks themselves, courts have lost sight of what discrimination law is supposed to be about and what the frameworks were theoretically designed to accomplish. Continue reading "Rethinking the Giant Mess that is Employment Discrimination Law"