Each year, hundreds of firms are prosecuted for violating environmental laws and hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties are assessed. At the same time, a much larger number of firms escape the various costs associated with litigation by adhering to the provisions of the same laws and regulations. It is not a priori apparent why this dichotomy exists. In this paper we draw on corporate governance and stakeholder theories to empirically investigate environmental lawsuits. Specifically, we compare the pre-lawsuit profile of 209 violators to a sample of matched control firms between 1994 and 1998. We find that the likelihood of becoming a lawsuit defendant increases with board size, with the fraction of directors in industrial firms, and with the fraction of inside ownership, and decreases with the number of directorships held by outside directors. These findings are robust to alternative dependent variable specifications. Together, our results suggest that managers, researchers, and policy-makers need to direct their attention to the corporate board as the core decision-making unit forming corporate environmental policies. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.