Discrimination, Complexity, and the Public/Private Sector Question

Source: Reginald A. Byron, Work and Occupations, Vol. 37 no. 4, November 2010
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From the abstract:
Does employment discrimination vary in degree or character across public and private labor market sectors? Prior research cannot fully address this question because it typically relies on one dimension of discrimination–estimates of wage gaps. This study extends the literature by analyzing 11,528 legally verified cases of race and sex discrimination from the Ohio Civil Rights Commission (1986-2003). Quantitative analyses demonstrate that aggregate rates of verified discrimination vary little by sector, yet there are elevated rates of public sector promotion discrimination and elevated rates of private sector firing discrimination. In-depth qualitative analyses show that specific sectoral processes contribute to these aggregate patterns. In the public sector, limited accountability for promotion decisions allows managers to devalue seniority, augment “soft skills,” and sabotage multiple stages of formalized proceedings. Moreover, the very devices intended to curb discriminatory promotion may inadvertently multiply the stages for bias to enter decisions. In the private sector, managers exploit the latitude afforded by the employment-at-will doctrine to differentially terminate workers, sometimes justifying their actions as cost saving in a competitive market. The author argues that these processes are in line with statistical discrimination and social closure theories and concludes by discussing their implications for understandings of workplace inequality.

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