Enforcement of Civil Rights Law in Private Workplaces: The Effects of Compliance Reviews and Lawsuits Over Time

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Abstract

Has federal antidiscrimination law been effective in moving women and minorities into management? Early studies show that government affirmative action reviews improved the numbers, and rank, of blacks, but evidence of what has happened since 1980 is sparse. There is little evidence that civil rights lawsuits improved the employment status of women or African Americans. We examine establishment-level effects of compliance reviews and lawsuits on the percentage of women and blacks in management. We find that compliance reviews, which alter organizational routines, had stronger and more lasting effects than lawsuits, which create disincentives to discriminate. We also find that deregulation was more consequential for compliance reviews than for lawsuits: Compliance reviews initiated in the 1980s were less effective than those initiated in the 1970s. Not so for lawsuits. Compared to lawsuits, compliance reviews appear to have a greater capacity to elicit lasting organizational change, but their effects are mediated by the regulatory environment.

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