Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Flavor of the Season: Disparate Impact?

In times past, one could go a fairly long time without much discussion of disparate impact, but two posts in other blogs today caught my attention. First, Paul Secunda has a post about new scholarship Seiner and Gutman on the New Disparate Impact.

Professor Secunda calls it a "very worthwhile read among the increasing literature on this watershed case [Ricci v. DeStefano (S.Ct. 6/29/09)]. He quotes the abstract of the article in full, but the last paragraph and one-half is enough to give you a flavor and a tease:
... After Ricci, however, in a broad category of disparate-impact cases liability now turns on what the employer knew when it took the challenged action. If the employer had no reason to think that the practice would have an unlawful disparate impact, it is immune from liability for its past actions.

This is a dramatic development, and it suggests that the Court sees disparate impact as not fundamentally different from intentional discrimination. Beyond its doctrinal importance for disparate-impact claims—which itself is considerable—the Ricci affirmative defense reflects an entirely new direction for this area of law. In this Article, we parse the language of Ricci to derive the new affirmative defense. We explain its significance for disparate-impact theory and discuss the limited safe harbor it has created for employers. We also situate the new defense within the broader context of federal employment-discrimination law, including other affirmative defenses that the Court has created for policy reasons. We thus explain how Ricci heralds a new disparate impact.
Then my fellow Texan, Russell Cawyer, who blogs at Texas Employment Law, had this note, Is the EEOC Getting Interested in Disparate Impact Claims? It was two informal discussion letters from the EEOC, one on the subject of requiring a master's degree and the other on "credit checks" as they relate to the possibility of a claim for disparate impact that caught his attention.

Like any field of endeavor, there tend to be trends, hot buttons, flavors of the week,month etc. in the employment law field. Is it disparate impact's turn? Maybe you should think of it as being on a trip to Ben and Jerry's -- it's too early to order, but not too early to think about what other scoop you want to go with your disparate impact Chunky Monkey.

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