Newspapers this week seem enraptured with the idea that an employment discrimination lawsuit is news.
It shouldn’t be.
Because all that a discrimination lawsuit is — by its fundamental nature — is a set of allegations against an employer. Nothing more, nothing less.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that each lawsuit that is brought is frivolous. But it also doesn’t mean it has merit.
You might think that filing a lawsuit claiming discrimination means the complaint must have passed some sort of test. But you would be mistaken.
In Connecticut, to file a lawsuit in state or federal court claiming employment discrimination, a person need only file a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities or the federal equivalent, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Once that is done, and after a period of time elapses, the aggrieved employee can ask the agency to end its investigation and to issue a "release of jurisdiction" — in other words, permission from the agency to file a lawsuit in state or federal court, which is virtually automatically granted. The agency — while in some instances retaining the case for investigation because the complaint is not "frivolous on its face" — never passes final judgment on many of its cases.
There is, of course, more to employment law and the procedures involved, but at its core, a state or federal lawsuit is still nothing more than a set of allegations that have yet to be proven before a judge or jury.
And a recent study of job discrimination claims show that only six percent of those bringing discrimination claims even get to a trial and only have a one-in-three chance of winning. It’s not unusual for a defendant employer to offer an early "token" settlement, said an author of the study, but "most cases don’t get anywhere near trial".
So, the next time you hear about a lawsuit being filed, check back in a few months or years to find out what happened to the lawsuit; that’s when there’s really news to report.