By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Black Americans, especially but not exclusively those on the lower-economic rung, often have a different experience with police and the justice system. That difference makes them more likely to believe they've been discriminated against, or to believe more generally, that they get greater attention and less protection from the law. That engenders a general distrust of the criminal justice system which, unfortunately, is a large part of what drives racial bias in strikes by prosecutors. I have written recently about ways to address race-based strikes, but an additional interesting question is whether skepticism toward the criminal justice system extends to skepticism toward the legal system in general, including the sphere of civil litigation. After all, following the Civil Rights Acts, civil litigation now serves as one of the principal ways of enforcing anti-discrimination in the workplace. If the groups that are more likely to face discrimination are also less trusting in the legal tools meant to address it, that would be an important limit on the law's effectiveness.
Not many studies have examined attitudes toward civil litigation, but a recent study has taken a look. McElhattan, Neilsen & Weinberg (2017) research looked at the views of Latino, African American, and White participants, specifically looking at two hypotheses: A "vigilance hypothesis," suggesting that minorities are more sensitized to potential discrimination and therefore more likely to see it than Whites, and a "cynicism hypothesis," suggesting that non-Whites are less likely to favor using the law by filing a claim. Their study found support for one hypothesis, but not the other one. It is an interesting conclusion with some implications both for avoiding litigation in the workplace and for the voir dire of potential jurors on attitudes toward civil litigation.