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.
Lauren B. Edelman is the Agnes Roddy Robb Professor of Law and Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Before joining the Berkeley Law faculty in 1996, she was a member of the sociology and law faculties at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Edelman is the winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, has twice been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and was a fellow at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio, Italy. She has served as secretary and president of the Law and Society Association, chaired the Sociology of Law section of the American Sociological Association, and was elected to the Sociological Research Association, an honorary society. Edelman’s research addresses the interplay between organizations and their legal environments, focusing on employers’ responses to and constructions of civil rights laws, workers’ mobilization of legal rights, the impact of management practices on law and legal institutions, dispute resolution in organizations, school rights, empirical critical race studies, empirical sociolegal studies, and employer accommodations of disabilities in the workplace. Her publications appear in the American Journal of Sociology, Law & Society Review, Law & Social Inquiry, Law & Policy, Annual Review of Sociology, Annual Review of Law and Social Science and numerous edited volumes. Her recent book is Working Law: Courts, Corporations and Symbolic Civil Rights (University of Chicago Press 2016), winner of the 2017 George R. Terry Book Award from the Academy of Management and the 2018 Distinguished Scholarly Book Prize from the American Sociological Association.