(CN) – Plaintiffs in federal sex-discrimination employment lawsuits are more likely to win financial settlements and pretrial rulings if women judges are presiding over their cases, according to a study to be published in the Journal of Labor Economics.
Researcher Matthew Knepper’s paper “When the Shadow is the Substance: Judge Gender and the Outcomes of Workplace Sex Discrimination Cases” takes a close look at how men and women in the judiciary resolve lawsuits alleging sex discrimination in the workplace.
The study suggests that the expanding influence of female judges leads to more favorable outcomes for plaintiffs.
Knepper’ study finds that if a female judge is assigned to handle a case, plaintiffs are 6.7 percent more likely to settle than if a male judge dealt with the lawsuit, and they are more likely to win a judgment in their favor by 7.1 percent.
If a man is presiding over the case, a female plaintiff is less likely to receive financial compensation, according to the study. If a woman is overseeing the case, they are 5 to 7 percent more likely to be awarded compensation.
"Importantly, these differences persist in spite of the fact that the trial victory rate for the same types of cases is statistically indistinguishable across male and female judges," Knepper wrote in the 96-page paper.
Knepper studied close to 2,300 workplace sex-discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, between 1997 and 2006. He says that 30 percent of federal judges are women. Based on the data, if half the judiciary were female then an additional 1.5 percent of cases would likely settle in favor of plaintiffs, he wrote.
“There is little evidence, however, to suggest that female plaintiffs’ compensation amounts respond to the gender of the judge assigned,” added Knepper, a research economist with the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Alleged victims of sex discrimination also saw gains among women judges during the procedural stages of their cases when judges can decide to throw out a lawsuit without a trial. Looking at how men and women judges handle pretrial proceedings, Knepper’s paper suggests that women judges are 15 percent less likely to grant motions filed by a defendant.
The study could reflect the changing face of the judiciary. In 2016, according to the National Association of Women Judges, 31 percent of state court judges were women, up 5 percentage points from 2010.
When President Barack Obama appointed Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court eight years ago, she joined Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court. For the first time in its history, the nation’s highest court counted three sitting female judges among its nine members.
Before Knepper's April 2017 paper, which will be published this year in the Journal of Labor Economics, findings on gender bias in the judiciary were less than conclusive and focused on appeals court judges, according to Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Knepper and other experts are trying to understand how a judge's gender might influence his or her rulings.
The American Journal of Political Science found in a 2010 study that women appeals court judges generally did not rule differently than their male counterparts. The exception was on matters of sex discrimination. In those cases, the probability that a male judge would rule in favor of the plaintiff decreased by almost 10 percentage points.
Knepper says women judges may be more attuned to “less egregious forms of sex discrimination" than their male counterparts.
“Prior studies point to the fact that female judges, who are themselves the minority in a male-dominated profession, may have had similar experiences to alleged victims of sex discrimination, which would give them an advantage in recognizing evidence of this unlawful behavior relative to their male counterparts,” Knepper wrote. “While one would expect that male and female judges would reach the same conclusions in clear-cut cases, it could be that the more marginal cases account for the overall difference in settlement and plaintiff compensation rates.”
Knepper said he could not conclude definitively that women judges have a pro-plaintiff bias, writing that all “that can be discerned with certainty is that female judges are more favorable to female sex discrimination plaintiﬀs, relative to male judges.”
Neither did he find any evidence of partisan bias in the data, writing that "the volume, composition, and selectivity of sex discrimination cases brought forth by the EEOC are unaﬀected by the party shift.”
“This latter finding rules out the possibility that the results are driven by ideologically motivated differences in how Democratic-nominated versus Republican-nominated female judges view workplace sex discrimination,” Knepper wrote.
The EEOC received 25,605 reports of sex discrimination in the workplace in the fiscal year 2017 – the lowest number since the fiscal year 2007, when the agency received 24,826 reports.
Four in 10 women in the United States have experienced some form of gender-based workplace discrimination, according to a Pew Research Center study published last year.