If a young black girl and a young white boy both lived in apartments with lead paint, and both their parents won a lawsuit against the landlord, the white boy could receive millions more dollars in damages.
It may sound absurd, but a Washington Post investigation found the practice was rampant across the US justice system.
Nearly all personal injury cases are settled out of court each year, the Post found, and race and gender are usually considered by both lawyers and juries when determining how much money victims should receive.
Settlements make up the vast majority of the $35 billion generated each year by personal injury lawyers, according to IBIS World.
When lost wage calculations are used to determine settlement amount, a common practice in personal injury cases, they can end up severely underestimating how much women and minorities are “worth” compared to white men, the Post found.
“The debate over this use of demographic averages pits two tenets of the American justice system — fairness and accuracy — against each other,” Kim Soffen writes for the Post.
Last year, women working full-time earned 80% of what men earned, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. A Pew Research Center analysis found white men had a median hourly income of $21 in 2015, while black men earned $15, Hispanic men earned $14, black women earned $13, and Hispanic women earned $12. Asian men and women bucked the trend, earning $24 and $18 per hour on average, respectively.
In lost wages cases, The Post found white men could likely receive up to 33% more money than black men and up to 74% more money than white women, based on predicted education level. So a white woman expected to get a high school education would receive $694,000 in damages, while a white man with the same predicted education level would get over $1.2 million, based on their model.
“As you peel the onion of discrimination, you realize how embedded it is in our legal system and our society,” University of Baltimore law professor Michael Meyerson told the Post.