Settling for Less? Organizational Determinants of Discrimination-Charge Outcomes


  • I thank Ron Edwards and Bliss Cartwright at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for providing access to their data. I appreciate the helpful comments of Barbara Reskin, Lowell Hargens, Paul Burstein, Becky Pettit, LSR reviewers, and LSR editor Carroll Seron on earlier drafts of this article. A previous version of this article was presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, Montreal, Canada, August 2006. Research support comes from the National Science Foundation (grant no. SES-0602496).

Please direct correspondence to Elizabeth Hirsh, Cornell University, 323 Uris Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853; e-mail:


Although more than 60,000 workers formally charge their employers with unlawful sex or race employment discrimination annually, fewer than one in five charges results in outcomes favorable to the complainant. Building on sociolegal and organizational theory, this study examines how employing organizations avoid unfavorable discrimination-charge outcomes. Using EEO-1 establishment reports matched to discrimination charge data provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, I assess the effect of employers' legal experience, resources, and indicators of legal compliance on the likelihood that complainants receive favorable charge outcomes, benefits, monetary settlements, and policy change mandates. In general, I find that legal experience, establishment size, and indicators of legal compliance insulate employers from unfavorable charge outcomes. However, in situations where employers are willing to settle claims, legally experienced establishments are more likely to pay monetary damages and receive mandates to change their workplace policies.