By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm
Imagine a typical employment discrimination case, subject to all of the ambiguities of human motivation. To the plaintiff, it is a story of good if not exceptional work performance cut short by a decision to terminate based on race, gender, age or disability. To the defendant, it is a story of enforcing job expectations broadly on all employees, including those who happen to be in protected categories. Given that a biased motive is rarely declared, it generally needs to be inferred from the circumstances. That act of inferring can invoke many of the subtleties of the fact finder's world-view, attitudes, and bias.
But the question is, who decides? The recent history of employment litigation is a history of shifting fact finders. In the early days of Title VII, it was judges. Then after the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the door was open for employment plaintiffs to seek verdicts and damages from juries. More recently, as employers have moved to mandatory arbitration clauses, the dominant fact finder has changed yet again. Some dimension of choice remains, particularly for defendants, and that choice is important. In this post, I take a look at the question from the defendant's point of view to share some of what we know on how judges, arbitrators, and juries compare in the context of employment cases.