Disparate Statistics

Yale Law Journal 126 (8):2382-2420 (2017)
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Statistical evidence is crucial throughout disparate impact’s three-stage analysis: during (1) the plaintiff’s prima facie demonstration of a policy’s disparate impact; (2) the defendant’s job-related business necessity defense of the discriminatory policy; and (3) the plaintiff’s demonstration of an alternative policy without the same discriminatory impact. The circuit courts are split on a vital question about the “practical significance” of statistics at Stage 1: Are “small” impacts legally insignificant? For example, is an employment policy that causes a one percent disparate impact an appropriate policy for redress through disparate impact litigation? This circuit split calls for a comprehensive analysis of practical significance testing across disparate impact’s stages. Importantly, courts and commentators use “practical significance” ambiguously between two aspects of practical significance: the magnitude of an effect and confidence in statistical evidence. For example, at Stage 1 courts might ask whether statistical evidence supports a disparate impact (a confidence inquiry) and whether such an impact is large enough to be legally relevant (a magnitude inquiry). Disparate impact’s texts, purposes, and controlling interpretations are consistent with confidence inquires at all three stages, but not magnitude inquiries. Specifically, magnitude inquiries are inappropriate at Stages 1 and 3—there is no discriminatory impact or reduction too small or subtle for the purposes of the disparate impact analysis. Magnitude inquiries are appropriate at Stage 2, when an employer defends a discriminatory policy on the basis of its job-related business necessity.
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