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Alabama Law Review

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civil rights, discrimination, social justice, enforcement


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Law


Eradicating discrimination is a lofty goal, ard since the second half of the twentieth century, the United States has largely relied upon the legal system to achieve this goal. Yet a great deal of scholarship suggests that the legal system may not always do a credible job. Scholars have documented multiple instances of discrimination laws' inaccessibility to discrimination victims individually and inability to improve the labor market prospects of victims as a whole. Still missing from the literature, however, is an assessment of what separates effective discrimination laws from ineffective ones. This Article fills this gap, using both qualitative and quantitative methods to determine the types of enforcement mechanisms that successfully and systematically improve the labor market outcomes of individuals protected by discrimination laws. The Article takes advantage of jurisdictional variation in laws that prohibit weight-based employment discrimination, which create a natural experiment for testing what types of laws and what types of remedies lead to meaningful improvement in the employment outcomes of protected workers. Applying the lessons learned from the weight-discrimination context to employment discrimination law more generally, the Article concludes that the existence of civil rights legislation on the books does little good for a protected class if a jurisdiction fails to allocate resources to enforcement appropriately. The study provides a cautionary tale for advocacy groups that focus all their resources on lobbying for new civil rights protections; their purposes might be better served by devoting significant resources to facilitating representation and raising public awareness about existing civil rights laws.



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