A U.S. Park police officer said he was demoted and then fired by the agency because he is Black. A Bureau of Land Management employee accused managers at the agency of hostile treatment because she is Black. A pharmacist at a Washington hospital claimed he was dismissed from his job because he is Black.
Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, presided as a federal trial court judge in all three of these cases involving claims of racial discrimination. She ruled against all three plaintiffs.
During Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings last year after Biden nominated her to a federal appellate court, Jackson faced Republican questions about whether race plays a role in how she does her job as a judge. She said it does not, though the issue could arise again during her four-day confirmation hearing before the committee beginning on Monday.
Reuters reviewed 25 cases in which Jackson issued substantive rulings as a U.S. district court judge in Washington from 2013 to 2021 involving plaintiffs who made claims of racial discrimination, most involving the workplace. She ruled in favor of plaintiffs in only three of the cases.
Of the 25 cases, 22 were pursued by Black plaintiffs. Jackson ruled against 19 of the Black plaintiffs.
“Plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases lose a lot, so this strikes me as consistent with the pattern I would expect because they are notoriously hard to win,” said employment law expert Kim Forde-Mazrui, director of the University of Virginia School of Law’s Center for the Study of Race and Law.
In two of the three cases that did not involve Black plaintiffs, Jackson ruled against a white man and an Asian man claiming workplace racial discrimination.
In the third case, she rejected a challenge by a company that bids on military contracts to the constitutionality of a U.S. law that gives preference for awarding government contracts to small businesses owned by “socially disadvantaged individuals,” a category that includes racial minorities.
In one case, Jackson declined to certify racial discrimination claims brought by two Black workers against defense contractor Lockheed Martin as a class action that would have involved potentially more than 5,000 employees. Jackson also rejected a $22 million settlement fund that the workers had negotiated with Lockheed, saying it was unclear if the amount was fair to workers who were not involved in the litigation. The case was eventually settled in 2020.
“If people are afraid she is going to be siding with Black plaintiffs because of her race, there are plenty of cases in her record that show she is not unwilling to side against a Black plaintiff if the facts and the law require it,” said Aron Zavaro, an employment lawyer in the Washington area who has represented plaintiffs in cases against government agencies.
Zavaro said Jackson’s rulings show that she followed Supreme Court precedent in how to analyze cases brought under the federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, a claim that can be difficult to prove because plaintiffs rarely have direct evidence of bias.