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Friday, October 3, 2008

Report Shows Courts Hostile to Discrimination Claims

Last month, the District Court of the District of Columbia released a landmark decision, citing the Library of Congress for discriminating against a transgender woman. The decision in this case, brought by Diane Schroer, was the first such recognition by a federal court of sex-based discrimination towards the transgender community. Ms. Schroer, who had served for several years in the military, was hired by the Library of Congress as a resident terrorism expert. When she, then still physically male, informed her supervisors of her intent to have sexual-reassignment surgery, her offer was rescinded.

While this decision by Clinton-appointed Judge James Robertson is groundbreaking, many Americans find the federal court system much less hospitable to their discrimination claims. After eight years of conservative judicial appointments by President Bush, people from all walks of life are finding the courts more hostile to their claims of mistreatment. Probably the most notable of these cases is last year’s Ledbetter v. Goodyear Rubber & Tire, in which the Supreme Court dismissed Lilly Ledbetter’s discrimination suit because, according to the five conservative justices, she had missed the filing deadline.

Ms. Ledbetter is one of many American workers harmed by increasingly conservative courts. The American Constitution Society recently hosted a discussion on a Harvard Law Review article, which found that “as a result of the likelihood of unfavorable rulings,” the number of discrimination suits filed fell 37 percent between 1999 and 2007. The article also found that “the win rate for plaintiffs in job discrimination cases…was [only] 15 percent,” compared to 51 percent for non-job related cases.

Studies like this serve to highlight the damage done by the Bush administration’s judicial selection program. Alliance for Justice will soon release its final report on Bush’s last eight years, but it looks like ACS has already given us a disturbing preview.

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