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The U.S. Department of Justice reported last month that employment discrimination cases have been the primary cause of growth in federal court civil filings.
On January 16th, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a study showing that more than 42,000 complaints alleging civil rights violations had been filed with U.S. District Courts in 1998, a 125% increase since 1990. They had grown to comprise 17% of all civil filings compared with 9% in 1990. During that same period non-civil rights cases grew by less than 8%. (These figures exclude prisoner petitions which had peaked at 41,679 cases filed in 1995 and then rapidly declined to 26,462 by 1998 due to the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 which placed restrictions on civil rights complaints filed by inmates in Federal court. They also do not include matters that were resolved through extra-judicial processes such as through Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Department of Housing and Urban Development administrative hearings.)
Two-thirds of the growth in civil rights cases came in the area of employment discrimination actions. From 8,413 cases filed in 1990, such cases nearly tripled to 23,735 in 1998. When you factor out those cases involving the federal government as a party, the employment discrimination filings more than tripled from 6774 in 1991 to 22,151 in 1997. About 1% of the cases are class actions.
The growth in employment civil rights cases follows the passages of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 which modified five other federal employment laws. “The Civil Rights Act of 1991,” says Dr. Marika F.X. Litras, BJS statistician, “also made available compensatory and punitive damages in certain discrimination claims, permitted jury trials for plaintiffs seeking monetary damages, and overturned seven U.S. Supreme Court decisions, effectively broadening the scope of employment practices considered discriminatory.”
The year following the passage of this act, saw a 40% increase in private employment discrimination filings. This rapid growth continued for five years until it started to level off at three times its former range.
Disposition of Cases
Only about 4.9% of the cases filed went to trial in 1998, down from 7.8% in 1990. About a third of the cases filed settled, a quarter of the cases were disposed of by non-trial final judgments (default, consent, arbitration, etc.) and the rest were dismissed either voluntarily or by court action. Although the total number of civil rights cases filed has increased by 125%, those making it to trial have only increased by 41%.
In 1990, 48% of the cases that made it to trial were decided by a jury and 44% by the judge. The percentage going to a jury rose steadily every year in the 90’s, reaching 77% in 1998. Plaintiffs won about one-third of the jury trials and one-quarter of the bench trials. About three-quarters of the victorious plaintiffs received monetary awards. While the median award was only about $100,000 in 1998, nearly 10% of the cases had judgments in excess of $10,000,000.
The complete report by the Bureau of Statistics is available at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/ascii/crcusdc.txt.