Bias in the Northern District of Georgia?

On Sunday, the Atlanta Journal of Constitution published a front-page story: Workers Who Cry Foul Seldom Get a Day in Court. The story focuses on an empirical study on summary dismissal of employment discrimination claims brought in the Northern District of Georgia in 2011 and 2012. That study reveals that it is “nearly impossible to get trial in an employment discrimination case” in the Northern District of Georgia. [The study was commissioned by the law firm of Barrett and Farahany in Atlanta, GA, and authored by Tanya McAdams and Amanda Farahany (full disclosure: my sister)]. The Northern District of Georgia (and Atlanta, in particular) appears to be an outlier, in that “70 percent of cases brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are dismissed before trial [nationwide],” while in the Northern District of Georgia, “judges toss more than 80 percent of all cases.” In Atlanta, they toss 94% of employment discrimination claims. In 2011 and 2012, 100% percent of racial harassment cases and all but one sexual harassment case were dismissed. By comparison, when the firm compared the results from the Northern District of Alabama (also within the 11th Circuit, and also a state with no state laws concerning employment discrimination (like Georgia)), they found that 66% instead of 80% of employment discrimination claims were dismissed in full.

How should we interpret these results? Could the Northern District of Georgia be facing far more frivolous suits than other jurisdictions? Perhaps, although it’s hard to believe that’s a complete answer. I, for one, would like to know how these results compare to summary dismissal of other types of claims in the same jurisdiction. Assuming that the rate of summary dismissal for employment discrimination claims differs from dismissal of other civil claims, should we infer some implicit (or explicit) bias is happening here.? [Other studies suggest implicit bias in the adjudication of employment discrimination cases – see e.g. pp. 1154-63 of Implicit Bias in the Courtroom)]. If so, plenty of neuropsychological studies show that merely presenting judges with the facts may help to de-bias them and enable them to better address meritorious (assuming there are some) claims.

As an aside, should we be more (or less) dubious about this study because a Plaintiffs’ law firm conducted it, rather than a “neutral” third party? Would it matter if this study were instead commissioned by a think tank, a non-profit, or undertaken by an academic (query whether academics are neutral given the ideological composition of academia)? What are your thoughts?