2019: Working Law: Courts, Corporations, and Symbolic Civil Rights

Professor Lauren Edelman, University of California Berkley, presented the 2019 annual Socio-Legal Lecture

Why, more than half a century after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, do race and gender inequality persist in the workplace?  In Working Law, Lauren Edelman argues that managers and professionals within organizations interpret ambiguous legal rules in ways that incorporate business interests and values and comply with law in ways that symbolize change without improving the workforce status of minorities and women.  Even more troubling, forms of symbolic compliance that become widespread within companies eventually make their way into the legal domain, inconspicuously influencing lawyers for both plaintiffs and defendants and even judges, regulators, and legislators. Litigation is ineffective at combatting discrimination because judges fail to scrutinize organizational structures, instead inferring nondiscrimination from the mere presence of symbols of compliance.  Ultimately, Edelman concludes that we have become a symbolic civil rights society in which symbols of equal opportunity and diversity have become accepted measures of compliance even where they fail to mitigate race and gender inequality.  

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