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The effect of court-ordered hiring quotas on the composition and quality of police (McCrary 2006)

Citation

McCrary, J. (2006). The effect of court-ordered hiring quotas on the composition and quality of police. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper no. 12368. Cambridge, MA: NBER.

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to examine the effect of litigation for claims of hiring discrimination on the representation gap of African Americans in U.S. police and fire departments.
    • The author examined Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO-4) State and Local Government Report data from 1973 to 1999 for 314 major U.S. cities. The author also examined additional data covering 1960 to 1973 for 120 cities, collected from a variety of historical sources. 
    • The study found that the difference in the African American representation gap between litigated and unlitigated cities diminished and almost completely disappeared by 1999.
    • The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low because the author did not control for pre-existing differences between unlitigated and litigated cities. This means that we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to hiring discrimination litigation. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Litigation related to hiring discrimination

Features of the Intervention

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are forbidden from discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin. Title VII created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to bring class action litigation against employers for discrimination. The EEOC and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) work together to enforce Title VII compliance of state and local governmental employers, including police and fire departments, as the DOJ has the authority to sue such employers for Title VII violations. Private litigants may also bring charges.

Starting in 1969, a large number of class action employment discrimination lawsuits were filed in federal district courts. Successful lawsuits often ordered race-based hiring quotas for the defendants; these quotas were usually imposed after one to three years and could potentially last for many years. Hiring quotas could be withdrawn judicially—for instance, if a new and nondiscriminatory hiring examination satisfying the court was developed. Alternatively, hiring quotas could expire when the court’s conditions were met; for example, the court might require that the department’s workforce attain a certain African American employment share.

Features of the Study

This study examined claims of hiring discrimination brought by private individuals or by the DOJ against municipal police or fire departments. The author investigated whether the filing of such litigation reduced these departments’ African American representation gaps, defined as the difference between a department’s African American employment share and the percentage of African Americans in the surrounding area. The author used a regression model to compare the representation gaps of cities that did and did not ever face litigation for hiring discrimination from 1973 to 1999, controlling for fixed city- and region-by-year effects. The model estimated the effects of litigation during the year filed and for each year afterward. Data on police and fire department employment and demographics came from EEO-4 State and Local Government Report files, which are surveys conducted by the EEOC. The full sample included 314 cities that had among the largest municipal police and fire departments on average over the sample period, about 30 percent of which ever faced litigation during the sample period. The author examined a longer period from 1960 to 1999 for a subsample of 120 cities, using data collected from a variety of historical sources.

Findings

    • The study found that the difference in the African American representation gap between cities that did and did not ever face hiring discrimination litigation against their police or fire departments during the sample period diminished and almost completely disappeared by 1999.
    • Across all 314 cities included in the sample, African Americans made a statistically significant gain of 10 percentage points of employment share of police and fire departments over 25 years.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The author showed that pre-enforcement trends in the representation gap were not similar in litigated and unlitigated cities, with the gap widening in litigated cities in the years before the litigation. Characteristics of litigated and unlitigated cities differed, with litigated cities having a larger African American population share. Because of the lack of similarity between the cities before some of them engaged in litigation, the estimated impact might reflect not only any effect of the litigation, but also changes in discrimination related to preexisting differences between the cities. In addition, enforcement efforts might have targeted police and fire departments with more discriminatory practices, making it difficult to disentangle the effect of litigation on discrimination from the effect of discrimination on litigation. For these reasons, the findings might not reflect the effect of hiring discrimination litigation alone.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low because the author did not control for pre-existing differences between unlitigated and litigated cities. This means that we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to hiring discrimination litigation. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

October 2015

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