Rapport Center hosts talk on European and North American approaches to employment discrimination

Adam Hamze

In a talk at the School of Law on Monday, Laura Carlson, associate professor at Stockholm University School of Law, and Samuel Bagenstos, professor at University of Michigan School of Law, both said a main difference between the Swedish and United States’ approach to employment discrimination is the way the two countries view legislation.

The talk, which focused on approaches to employment discrimination between Sweden and the United States, was part of the Rapport Center’s 2014 Colloquium on Comparing European and North American Approaches to Human Rights.

Carlson said that, in Sweden, legislation is viewed as an extreme measure, and not a solution to solve problems the country may be experiencing.

“Legislation is seen, at least in the Swedish context, as a last ditch effort because society has failed.” Carlson, who has lived in Sweden for 20 years, said.

According to Carlson, Sweden is a society based on social rather than individual justice, and the difference between the two is that social justice lacks legal justice.

“Social justice, in some ways, excludes individual justice,” Carlson said. “What happens with social justice is that it says society as a whole has to have these levels, but the individuals don’t receive the same attention.”

Bagenstos highlighted what he said he believed to be issues in the way the United States approaches discrimination against the disabled. According to Bagenstos, it is hard to find attorneys to fight against employer discrimination.

“The basic problem with finding attorneys is that it is very difficult to prove a case that you have not been hired because of any particular characteristic,” Bagenstos said.

Bagenstos said that it is easier to prove employment discrimination in the United States than in Sweden because statistical evidence is excluded from plaintiffs’ cases in Sweden. In 2011, there were a total of 300 lawsuits filed based on the merit of employment discrimination. 

Tovah Pentelovitch, a graduate student in social work and law, said the political polarization the United States faces slows down the process of creating laws to aid employer discrimination.

“Governments have trouble coming to a common ground where they can create policies that can help the most people,” Pentelovitch said.

According to Pentelovitch, an effective method of preventing employment discrimination is to host more talks like the Rapport Center’s Colloquium, as they give students a global perspective and incite conversation.