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The Content of Our Categories: A Cognitive Bias Approach to Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity

Linda Hamilton Krieger
Stanford Law Review
Vol. 47, No. 6 (Jul., 1995), pp. 1161-1248
Published by: Stanford Law Review
DOI: 10.2307/1229191
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1229191
Page Count: 88
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The Content of Our Categories: A Cognitive Bias Approach to Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity
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Abstract

Title VII's disparate treatment model of discrimination is premised on the notion that intergroup bias is motivational in origin. This premise, in turn, is based on a number of assumptions regarding the nature of human inference and the respective roles played by cognition and motivation in social judgment and decisionmaking. Applying insights from cognitive psychology, Professor Krieger examines the assumptions about human inference embedded in current disparate treatment theory and questions the premise that discrimination necessarily manifests intent or motive. She suggests that a large number of biased employment decisions result not from discriminatory motivation, as current legal models presume, but from a variety of unintentional categorization-related judgment errors characterizing normal human cognitive functioning. Because of the lack of fit between the present disparate treatment model and the phenomenon it purports to represent, courts and litigants are presented with a confusing array of increasingly ill-defined and questionably premised analytical paradigms. Worse, as currently constructed, it may be exacerbating intergroup tensions and inflating both social and financial adjudication costs. Searching for solutions, Professor Krieger explores the legal and policy implications of a cognitive process approach to discrimination and equal employment opportunity and evaluates a variety of modifications to existing equal employment opportunity law.

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