Professor Ellen Berrey outlines the myths of employment discrimination litigation in article featured in the American Bar Association Journal

Professor Ellen Berrey recently co-authored an article featured in the American Bar Association Journal. The article explores the research and findings from Professor Berrey’s latest book, Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality. Professor Berrey is an Assistant Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the UTM campus. Her research specializes on law and society. The article appeared in the November 2017 issue of the ABA Journal.

We have posted an excerpt below.

10 myths show the harsh realities of employment civil rights litigation

On the surface, America’s commitment to equal opportunity in the workplace has never been clearer. Virtually every company has anti-discrimination policies in place, and there are laws designed to protect these rights across a range of marginalized groups.

But our examination of nearly 1,800 civil rights cases and interviews with parties and their lawyers shows that this progressive vision of the law falls far short in practice. When aggrieved individuals turn to the law, the adversarial character of litigation imposes considerable personal and financial costs that make plaintiffs feel like they’ve lost regardless of the outcome of the case. Employer defendants also are dissatisfied with the system, often feeling “held up” by what they see as frivolous cases. And even when the case is resolved in the plaintiff’s favor, the conditions that gave rise to the lawsuit rarely change.

In fact, the contemporary approach to workplace discrimination law perversely reinforces the very hierarchies that anti-discrimination laws were created to redress…

In our book, Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality, we offer a comprehensive analysis of the system of employment civil rights litigation, using both statistical data from a large random sample of cases and in-depth interviews with plaintiffs, plaintiffs lawyers, defendant employers and defense lawyers about their experiences with and perspectives on discrimination lawsuits…

Read the full article here.

Professor Berrey’s research on Affirmative Action featured in the Christian Science Monitor

Professor Ellen Berrey was recently featured in an article in the Christian Science Monitor by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo. The article concerns recent controversies in the USA surrounding affirmative action practices in college admissions. The article explores the debates around affirmative action in the  context of US higher education institutions with reference to Professor Berrey’s research. Professor Berrey studies the effect of law, organizational practices, and culture on inequality. She has published work on diversity discourse, affirmative action policies, employment discrimination litigation, corporate social responsibility, and urban gentrification.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below.

A sticky week for college admissions as affirmative action debate heats up

By Stacy Teicher Khadaroo | Aug. 3, 2017

The waters of the affirmative action debate – left relatively undisturbed since a Supreme Court decision upheld its constitutionality last year – were again agitated this week.

The trigger: a leaked internal document from the Department of Justice that signaled to some that the Trump administration is devoting resources to the anti-affirmative action cause. Others say that’s an overblown reaction to an innocuous move to investigate one claim by Asian-Americans.

Today, the majority of top-tier universities maintain a strong commitment to the value of diversity and the narrow use of race in admissions to achieve that. But the steady drumbeat of criticism from those who believe society should be colorblind may have contributed to what new research has found: The percentage of competitive institutions publicly stating that they factor race into admissions has dramatically declined….

From 1994 to 2014, the percentage of selective colleges and universities that publicly state they use race in admissions has declined from more than 60 percent to just 35 percent, researchers Daniel Hirschman of Brown and Ellen Berrey of the University of Toronto found in a paper published in June. The decline has been strongest among lowest tier of competitive schools.

Read the full article here.

Professor Ellen Berrey featured in The New Yorker Magazine

The New Yorker Magazine recently published a piece called “The Limits of Diversity” discussing debates in the US about affirmative action and the rhetoric around “diversity.” The article prominently features the work of Professor Ellen Berrey. Professor Berrey is an Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department with teaching responsibilities on the Mississauga campus. She studies the effects of law, organizational practices, and culture on inequality and recently published the book, The Enigma of Diversity.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below.

The Limits of “Diversity”

Where affirmative action was about compensatory justice, diversity is meant to be a shared benefit. But does the rationale carry weight?

… in “The Enigma of Diversity,” she [Ellen Berrey] sets out to discover how this ideology functions, by spending time in the field. Three fields, in fact: a large (and, by agreement, anonymous) Fortune 500 corporation, a mixed-income neighborhood in Chicago, and a selective public university, the University of Michigan. All three realms were proudly and self-consciously diverse, although carefully so—Michigan had been sued over its affirmative-action program. Berrey’s smart and subtle book aims to show exactly how differently people and institutions use this malleable concept.

The neighborhood that Berrey studied is called Rogers Park, and when she did her research it was roughly thirty-two per cent white, thirty per cent black, twenty-eight per cent Hispanic, and six per cent Asian—neither a rich enclave nor an isolated ghetto. One alderman referred to a controversial plan to offer subsidized housing to low-income residents as a way to “maintain diversity.” But when a representative from a pro-development organization responded that his organization “wants to diversify,” he was using the word to argue against the plan. “There’s already too much low-income housing there,” he said. Meanwhile, at the big corporation, the diversity-management program functioned mainly as a surreal exercise in internal branding, entirely separate from the legal department (which handled claims of discrimination). So-called diversity managers worked to foster an “inclusive” environment, but they seemed to spend much of their time “reiterating the good that would come from diversity,” as a way of justifying their own positions.

Even on campus, where the modern diversity doctrine was fashioned, Berrey found that the doctrine itself was hard to define. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be that “racial minorities” were “culturally distinct from but culturally equivalent to white people.” (The cultural differences were considered real enough to make diversity valuable but not real enough to explain, say, disparities in academic achievement.) At one point, Michigan’s admissions-office Web site pictured a welter of enthusiastic believers, including a student who declared, “Diversity is one of the issues I’m most passionate about.” …

It may turn out that the rise of diversity marked the end of the golden age of affirmative action. This summer, Berrey published a paper that analyzed the admissions practices of about a thousand selective colleges in America; she and her co-author, Daniel Hirschman, found that sixty per cent of them had race-conscious admission policies in 1994, but only thirty-five per cent did in 2014. Some public institutions were forced by law to adopt a race-blind admissions policy, but much of the shift came among “middle-status” colleges and universities. Berrey and Hirschman hypothesized that these schools were reacting to a broad political backlash against affirmative action. This retreat may explain why Berrey, who is sympathetic to affirmative action, is reluctant to dismiss the diversity movement, no matter how inchoate or feckless it may seem. The upbeat language of diversity helps camouflage racial demands that might otherwise seem impolite—or unconstitutional. “Diversity is so plastic and broadly appealing,” Berrey writes, “it can justify effective policy interventions such as affirmative admissions, and it can animate progressive political action to redistribute resources to the disadvantaged, too”—measures that Berrey seems to support, and that many other Americans otherwise might not…

Read the full article here.

Professor Ellen Berrey’s new book puts employment civil rights litigation on trial

Professor Ellen Berrey and two co-authors have recently published a book showing how employment civil rights litigation in the United States works to reinforce the systems of privilege that the laws had set out to eliminate.  Rights on Trial: How Workplace Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality uncovers the various obstacles in the legal system that disadvantage plaintiffs and perpetuate inequality in the workplace.

The book, co-authored with Laura Beth Nielsen and Robert L. Nelson, is published by University of Chicago Press. The book’s website provides the following blurb and book trailer:

On the surface, America’s commitment to equal opportunity in the workplace has never been clearer. Virtually every company has anti-discrimination policies in place, and there are laws designed to protect these rights across a range of marginalized groups. But, as Ellen Berrey, Robert L. Nelson, and Laura Beth Nielsen compellingly show, this progressive vision of the law falls far short in practice. When aggrieved individuals turn to the law, the adversarial character of litigation imposes considerable personal and financial costs that make plaintiffs feel like they’ve lost regardless of the outcome of the case. Employer defendants also are dissatisfied with the system, often feeling “held up” by what they see as frivolous cases. And even when the case is resolved in the plaintiff’s favor, the conditions that gave rise to the lawsuit rarely change. In fact, the contemporary approach to workplace discrimination law perversely comes to reinforce the very hierarchies that anti-discrimination laws were created to redress.

Rights on Trial Book Trailer from American Bar Foundation on Vimeo.

Ellen Berrey speaks on Trump and the law on CTV

berrey-thumbnailEllen Berrey is a faculty member in Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. Her research focuses on law and society, race and public policy in the U.S. On February 6th, she spoke on CTV about President Trump’s travel ban.

Watch the video of her interview here:

 http://ctv.news/wyN6ueE

Does Diversity Work?

UTM Sociology Professor Ellen Berrey was recently profiled on the UTM Research News page. The full story is available on their website. We have pasted the beginning of the piece here:

Does ‘diversity’ work?

Ellen Berrey
Wednesday, December 14, 2016 – 2:31pm

The concept of diversity has been celebrated and supported at major organizations and public institutions since the 1980s. It’s a widely supported ideal in contemporary society, but what if its unintended consequence is to perpetuate social and racial inequality? That’s the thorny question at the centre of UTM sociology professor Ellen Berrey’s research.

“Decision-makers in many social domains endorse diversity with an emphasis on the payoffs for everyone – it’s good for learning and good for business – rather than the goal of equality,” says Berrey, who arrived at UTM this summer from the University of Denver. She examines what she calls “the promises and pitfalls” of promoting diversity in environments such as universities, corporations and courtrooms. “I’m interested in organizational and legal efforts to remedy problems of inequality, and how these efforts actually play out on the ground,” she says.

While the term “diversity” covers many differences – including religion, sexual orientation and ability – Berrey says that race is the default assumption when people talk about diversity. “The language of diversity comes directly out of race issues in the United States, especially the black-white divide.” Most of Berrey’s research focuses on the U.S. context.

There have been some important social reforms implemented in the name of diversity, she says, but they have been small and incremental. “Diversity communicates a shared commitment to the social good across differences that divide us. Yet there’s much more of an appearance of change than actual demonstrable change. The movement for diversity hasn’t undone some of the deeper, institutional conditions that reproduce inequality.”

In her 2015 book The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice, Berrey explores some of those entrenched discriminatory conditions in employment, university admissions and housing. Drawing on six years of fieldwork in a Fortune 500 company, a major American university and a Chicago neighbourhood, she argues that the public embrace of diversity hasn’t accomplished the social change required for racial justice.

Continue reading.

Welcome New Faculty

This year the Department of Sociology welcomes ten new faculty members into our community of scholars. This is the largest cohort of new faculty members we have seen in decades. They cover research and teaching interests ranging from classical theory to criminology and immigration studies and will help shape the character of the department in the years to come. Though housed across the three campuses, all faculty join together in contributing to the tri-campus graduate department.

Professor Ellen Berrey joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, Mississauga teaching in the area of Law and Society. She graduated with a PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University in 2008 and has previously taught at the University at Buffalo, SUNY and at the University of Denver.

Professor Irene Boeckmann is a new faculty member in Family and Demography, teaching at the St. George campus. Professor Boeckmann completed her PhD at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2014 and spent 2015 as a post-doctoral fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany.

Professor Emine Fidan Elcioglu brings her expertise in political sociology and immigration to the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Professor Elcioglu received her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 2016.

Professor Steve G. Hoffman received his PhD at Northwestern University in 2009 and taught for several years at the University at Buffalo, SUNY before coming to the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Professor Hoffman teaches in the area of social theory and the sociology of disaster.

Professor Rachel La Touche comes to the University of Toronto at St George this year where she is teaching in the areas of research methods and inequality. She received her PhD from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2016 and has previously taught at the University of Mannheim-Germany and at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research(ICPSR) Summer Program at the University ofMichigan.

Professor Yoonkyung Lee joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, St. George. Professor Lee received her PhD at Duke University in 2006 and has previously taught at Binghamton University. Professor Lee is a political sociologist with a focus on Korean studies.

Professor Sida Liu is a new faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Professor Liu is a specialist in the sociology of law. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2009. Before coming to Toronto, Professor Liu taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also currently a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation and a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah received his doctorate in 2014 from the Centre for Criminology and Socio-legal Studies here at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Before coming back to Toronto, Professor Owusu-Bempah taught for a year at the Indiana University, Bloomington. Professor Owusu-Bempah is a specialist in policing and race.

Professor Kim Pernell comes to the University of Toronto, St. George with expertise in economic sociology, organizational sociology and social policy. Professor Pernell received a PhD in Sociology from Harvard in 2016.

Professor Ashley Rubin joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, Mississauga bringing expertise in the sociology of punishment and prisons. Professor Rubin received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013 and previously taught at Florida State University.

Professor Ellen Berrey and the Enigma of Diversity

We are pleased to welcberrey-thumbnailome Professor Ellen Berrey to the Department of Sociology. Professor Berrey is teaching undergraduate courses at the University of Toronto, Mississauga and is a member of the graduate faculty of the tri-campus Sociology Department.

We are also very happy to congratulate Professor Berrey on the awards and accolades that her first book, The Enigma of Diversity, has recently been receiving.

In The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Professor Berrey probes the meaning of “diversity” in the United States. This book has been described by leading scholars as “vibrant, vital and incisive,” (Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University), “keen” and “compelling” (Michèle Lamont, Harvard University), and “a remarkable contribution” (Osagie Obasogie, Univesrity of California- Berkeley). It has recently received the 2016 Herbert Jacob Book Prize of the Law & Society Association; the 2016 Distinguished Book Award of the Sociology of Law section of the American Sociological Association (ASA); and the 2016 Mary Douglas Book Prize Honorable Mention of the Sociology of Culture section of the ASA. It also had the distinction of being featured in an Author-Meets-Critics session at the 2016 meetings of the ASA.

As the back of the book explains:

Diversity these days is a hallowed American value, widely shared and honored. That’s a remarkable change from the Civil Rights era—but does this public commitment to diversity constitute a civil rights victory? What does diversity mean in contemporary America, and what are the effects of efforts to support it?

Ellen Berrey digs deep into those questions in The Enigma of Diversity: The Language of Race and the Limits of Racial Justice (University of Chicago Press, May 2015). Drawing on six years of fieldwork and historical sources dating back to the 1950s, and making extensive use of three case studies from widely varying arenas—affirmative action in the University of Michigan’s admissions program, housing redevelopment in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, and the workings of the human resources department at a Fortune 500 company—Berrey explores the complicated, contradictory, and even troubling meanings and uses of diversity as it is invoked by different groups for different, often symbolic ends. In each case, diversity affirms inclusiveness, especially in the most coveted jobs and colleges, yet it resists fundamental change in the practices and cultures that are the foundation of social inequality. Berrey shows how this has led racial progress itself to be reimagined, transformed from a legal fight for fundamental rights to a celebration of the competitive advantages afforded by cultural differences.

Powerfully argued and surprising in its conclusions, The Enigma of Diversity reveals the true cost of the public embrace of diversity: the taming of demands for racial justice.


Professor Berrey’s second book, coauthored with Robert Nelson and Laura Beth Nielsen, Rights on Trial: How Employment Discrimination Law Perpetuates Inequality, will be out in 2017 with the University of Chicago Press’s Law & Society series. Her current research looks at universities’ and colleges’ responses to the fall 2015 anti-racism student protests, holistic admissions and racial ideology in public higher education, and benefit corporations and the politics of sustainability.