Some commentators have argued that the federal courts are increasingly hostile to employees who bring employment discrimination claims in federal court. One study, for example, suggested that plaintiffs simply have too many obstacles to overcome in federal court.

A new study on summary judgment practices by the Federal Judicial Center suggests that such a perception may be off-center.  (The FJC is the education and research agency of the federal courts.)

Paul Mollica of Daily Developments in EEO Law reports on the study:

[The study shows] that 35% of employment discrimination cases culminate in a summary judgment motion. [The study also] reports the bottom-line figure that 9 to 14% of the employment discrimination cases (depending on the district studied) were actually terminated on summary judgment. (One way to square the numbers is that in many instances, the defendant succeeds on dismissing some counts but not others; multiple counts often seek the same relief.)….

 [I]t appears that far more federal employment discrimination cases are ending on favorable terms (either settlement or avoiding summary judgment) [to Plaintiffs] than the anecdotal evidence first suggests….

What does this mean? It means that there are a lot fewer cases getting dismissed at the summary judgment stage (i.e. before trial) then many believed. 

For in-house lawyers advising their clients about summary judgment, the study should serve as a cautionary tale that an early exit in a case before trial may not be realistic.  Summary judgment on the papers of a case remains difficult to achieve in federal court (and even more difficult in Connecticut state court).  This translates into higher litigation costs and the realization that, absent a settlement, an employment case could go to a trial (further increasing the costs).  

(Hat Tip: Workplace Prof)