Congratulations to Professor David Pettinicchio, recipient of Ontario’s Early Researcher Award

David PettinicchioProfessor David Pettinicchio has recently been awarded one of the Province of Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards. These awards, provided by Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation, give funding to new researchers working at publicly funded Ontario research institutions to help them build their research teams.

Professor Pettinicchio will use his award to support students working with him on his study of the discrimination faced by Ontarians with disabilities in the employment sector.  His research is motivated by the awareness that Ontarians with disabilities are three times less likely to work, and when they do work, earn considerably less than people without disabilities. Although theories of discrimination based on indirect evidence suggest that employer attitudes and behaviours create obstacles at various stages in employment for people with disabilities, his research will provide direct evidence about how discrimination manifests itself and provide valuable information for developing solutions to help Ontarians with disabilities achieve their employment potential.

With his students, Professor Pettinicchio is directly observing correspondence between job candidates and employers using matched-pair résumés sent to real employers. Their field experiment represents a major step forward in the study of labour market discrimination placing Ontario at the forefront of audit-based employment discrimination research. Their findings will address the ongoing disconnect between policies meant to increase employment among the disabled– especially in Ontario’s growing knowledge-based economy – and actual employment outcomes. Underemployment and underperformance in the labour market is a concern shared by many industrialized countries. Given these international concerns, the implications of this study will also be of interest to researchers and policymakers around the world.

Are Protests Effective?

David Pettinicchio


The University of Toronto Mississauga’s newspaper, The Medium, recently featured two of our faculty members – Professors Sida Liu and David Pettinicchio – addressing the role and effectiveness of political protest. You can read the entire article online. We have posted an excerpt here.



Are protests effective?

A rise in the number of widespread protests has occurred

Aisha Malik and Mahmoud Sarouji.

Feb. 13, 2017

If you have been following the news lately, it’s hard to miss the abundance of protests and demonstrations occurring globally…

…But are protests effective? I contacted sociology professor Sida Liu, whose focus includes sociology of law, globalization, and social theory among others.

Liu explained that protests are an important factor of a democratic society. The protests in the U.S. not only show discontent with the president, but also reflect on larger global concerns, such as discrimination and the rise of xenophobia. Liu stated, “Skeptics would say that these protests are futile when a government is not listening and a president is too busy tweeting, but they at least raise the collective consciousness of people regarding some vital aspects of our social and political life.”

He went on to explain that protests connect over time, and sometimes only manifest after a longer period of time. Protests rarely have an immediate effect, but they are not isolated events either; rather, they need time to become evident.

In regards to solidarity marches for the Quebec City mosque shooting victims, Liu said that they “demonstrate the Canadian society’s openness, diversity, and care for religious and ethnic minority groups.” They also allow communities to come out and condemn violence against innocent and unarmed individuals.

Liu cited Émile Durkheim, a founding father of sociology who argued, “Punishment on crimes is an indicator of the solidarity of a society.” He further explained, “In this sense, solidarity marches also constitute a form of resistance to the symbolic and physical violence of gender and racial discrimination exercised by xenophobic white males.”

Sociology professor David Pettinicchio, whose focuses include political sociology, social policy, and social movements, also spoke of the impact a protest can have.

Pettinicchio explained that protests allow awareness of issues that don’t seem to be focused on by political leaders. Political activism is important especially now. He stated that “protests help galvanize people around important issues and they can indirectly shape policy directions.

“[Protests] alone may not be enough. For mobilization to be successful moving forward, it requires thinking about long-term and short-term goals and objectives, as well as the use of a multi-pronged approach that can include direct action, as well as systematic efforts to monitor policy, contact policymakers, and for regular citizens to remain engaged in the political process in the long run,” he continued. “The effectiveness relies on unity of ‘political elites’ movement and organizational leaders, activists and regular citizens.”

Read the full article here.

David Pettinicchio: History matters for understanding the future of disability rights

David Pettinicchio is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, with undergraduate teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. His research focuses on discrimination based on disability and disability rights. Professor Pettinicchio recently wrote and published an essay in Policy Trajectories, the blog of the American Sociological Association’s Section on Comparative and Historical Sociology. The beginning of the essay is pasted below. You can read the full piece here.

History matters for understanding the future of disability rights

In 2000, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick for Attorney General, argued before the Senate that disability rights in education “created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.”

This is a longstanding view of Sessions, who in the late 1990s and early 2000s focused his efforts in educational policy around school safety and discipline while also proposing an amendment striking activities related to hate crimes from national training and education programs. With so-called “Ed-Flex,” Sessions and other Republicans in 1999 argued that arrogance on the part of the federal government acting as a “super school board” – thinking they know better than local communities about how to educate their children – only creates headaches.

To many critics, an Attorney General Sessions signals an era of rollbacks in civil rights and disability rights policy. Distressingly, his is not an anomalous viewpoint.

Sessions’ comments highlight the kinds of deeply held beliefs among powerful segments of society that federal disability rights policy interferes with local and/or private interests. Detractors have successfully created significant obstacles for effective policy implementation by framing equal rights and antidiscrimination provisions as unnecessary regulation causing unintended harms.

The fight for equal rights in education has been an integral part of the disability rights struggle. Policymakers and activists sought to establish key educational civil rights laws demanding that the government make good on its promise to enforce antidiscrimination and equal rights provisions enacted by Congress in the early 1970s and again in the early 1990s.

Read the full essay.

Disability and the Trump Administration

Professor David Pettinicchio is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga with expertise in the area of political sociology and social policy and particular research interests in the area of policy and disability. He currently has a SSHRC-funded research project investigating employer discrimination against persons with disabilities. He recently published an editorial piece in The Hill, a US political newspaper. The full article is available here. We have included the beginning of the piece below.

Disability and the Trump Administration – What’s Next?

In unprecedented fashion, disability-related issues were prominent in this last electoral cycle. During the primaries, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and John Kasich promised to address persistent economic inequalities confronting people with disabilities, as well as address the occupational ghettoization of workers with disabilities into dangerous, lower-paying employment.

Clinton, who spent a great part of her adult life helping members of historically disadvantaged groups that include people with disabilities, moved from a narrow focus on expanding social and health services to a broader platform addressing deep-rooted inequalities that keep people with disabilities down.

Had Clinton won the election, we would no doubt demand that her campaign promises about helping people with disabilities be translated into policy. What might we expect from the Trump Administration?

Trump’s plans for the country are anyone’s guess right now. Much of the post-election anxiety is the result of the vague, sometimes conflicting, and often blustering rhetoric by the president-elect across an array of policy areas. To say that Trump’s platform lacked policy specificities is an understatement. In that vein, Trump has made little mention of disability-related social policy.

Rather, Trump’s association with disability in the campaign came by way of his mocking Serge Kovaleski, the New York Times reporter with arthrogryposis.


Continue reading.

Pettinicchio on Hillary Clinton’s America

Professor David Pettinicchio is a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga with expertise in the area of political sociology and social policy. He, together with Michelle Maroto of the University of Alberta, recently published a piece on the Huffington Post Contributor platform. The entire post can be found online. The following is an excerpt of the longer article.

Hillary Clinton’s America: “The America I Know and Love”

By David Pettinicchio and Michelle Maroto

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have presented two different pictures of the U.S. economy, especially when it comes to unemployment. Not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton has played up many of the economic gains made throughout Barack Obama’s presidency – including the significant decline in the number of long-term unemployed Americans since 2008. But she has also had to contend with inequality and disadvantage that has persisted since her husband, Bill Clinton’s, presidency.

Hillary reminded viewers of the economic prosperity associated with Bill Clinton’s years in office at the second presidential debate: “it’s not just because I watched my husband take a $300 billion deficit and turn it into a $200 billion surplus and 23 million new jobs were created and incomes went up for everybody. Everybody. African-American incomes went up 33 percent.”

The so-called “new economy” of the 1990s saw about ten years of continuous economic growth as well as the largest jobs increase in U.S. history. However, throughout the 1990s, troubling labor market trends also negatively impacted many American workers, including workers from historically marginalized and disadvantaged groups: the rise of less stable and lower paying jobs; the declining influence of labor unions; and persistent labor market segmentation disproportionately affecting women, African Americans, and people with disabilities.

Read the full article.

Americans with Disabilities Act 25 yrs later

Earlier this year, the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Professor David Pettinicchio, whose dissertation research studied the ADA, wrote a number of Opinion pieces for the media to coincide with this anniversary. The following piece was published in Talking Points Memo on July 29th. Other pieces appeared in USA Today and the Globe and Mail.

Disabled Americans Are Worse Off In the Job Market Than They Were 25 Years Ago

Twenty-five years ago this past Sunday, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. Today, people with disabilities are less likely to be employed than they were before the law was enacted. Workers with disabilities earn, on average, about $14,000 less than similar workers without disabilities. About one in every three disabled Americans lives in poverty.

When George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990, hopes were high for a revolutionary improvement in the lives of people with disabilities. What can explain this law’s colossal failure?

The problems began decades before the bill was signed. In 1971, Representative Charles Vanik and Senator Hubert Humphrey tried to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include people with disabilities—but they met immediate resistance. Many politicians, employers and even some activists saw discrimination based on disability as different than discrimination based on race or gender.

As a result, disability rights developed on a separate track from civil rights. Compared to civil rights law, the ADA and laws like it provide different—and weaker—anti-discrimination and equal rights protections for people with disabilities.

The challenge came from business. Critics of the ADA saw disability rights legislation as a form of redistribution in which employers would have to make “special efforts” for some individuals.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business and other powerhouse lobbying groups strongly opposed the law on the grounds that it would create expensive burdens for corporations.

To appease business interests, the ADA limits the rights of people with disabilities to claim fair treatment. Fairness is not the standard of the law. Employers are required only to offer a “reasonable accommodation” to people with disabilities and businesses are protected from needing to suffer “undue hardship” in their efforts to treat people with disabilities fairly. With these phrases in the law, corporate litigators were off to the races.

As a result, most disability cases resulted in settlements or never made it beyond the very first judicial question, called standing. Unlike women and racial minorities in civil rights cases, the burden in ADA cases lays completely on the plaintiffs (people with disabilities) to prove they are members of a disadvantaged group.

Employers came to see the Supreme Court as an effective tool in undermining the ADA. Ironically, while the Court has frequently played a favorable role in fighting race and gender-based discrimination (and, more recently, has supported equal marriage rights for same-sex couples), the justices have ruled frequently against the claims of people with disabilities. Sociologist Michelle Maroto and I analyzed disability-related federal court cases between 1990 and 2010 and found that the Supreme Court overturned a significant number of lower court decisions that favored disabled plaintiffs.

By 2006, the train had run so far off the rails that supporters of equal rights for people with disabilities offered a new bill, the “Americans with Disabilities Act Restoration Act.” Elements of that bill became law as the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. In his testimony, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh explained how the courts had eviscerated the original law, saying, “Clearly this is not what was intended by those who worked together cooperatively in the years leading up to ADA passage in 1990. In fact, it is quite the opposite.”

Again though, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spoke out in opposition. The Chamber of Commerce pointed to legal precedent, in which disability rights are different than other civil rights. They argued that “Congress recognized that the unique aspects of discrimination against individuals with disabilities required legislation that would be distinct from other civil rights statutes that preceded it.”

Seven years after the ADA Restoration Act, we have seen little improvement in the economic wellbeing of people with disabilities. In 2012, the employment rate among people with disabilities was an abysmal 18 percent.

The time has come to give Americans with disabilities full inclusion in the Civil Rights Act. This is what legislators working in the area of disability originally envisioned and sought repeatedly to achieve especially following the outcomes of litigation. True, when it comes to education and employment, people with disabilities sometimes face challenges that are distinct from members of other minority groups. Yet, the failures of the ADA are manifest in the reduced life chances of millions of Americans living with disabilities. Having a separate policy and enforcement mechanism reinforces the idea that disabled people are different and should be seen differently by the law. What has developed is a separate and unequal policy system where the rights of people with disabilities are interpreted far differently than the rights of other disadvantaged groups.