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Thomas Sowell
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The Invincible Dogma


A long-standing legal charade was played out again recently, when Federal Express paid $3 million to settle an employment discrimination case brought by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Federal Express was accused of both racial discrimination and sex discrimination. FedEx denied it.

Why then did they pay the $3 million? Because it can cost a lot more than $3 million to fight a discrimination case. Years ago, the Sears department store chain spent $20 million fighting a sex discrimination charge that took 15 years to make its way through the legal labyrinth. In the end, Sears won — if spending $20 million and getting nothing in return can be called winning.

Federal Express was apparently not prepared to spend that kind of money and that kind of time fighting a discrimination case. The net result is that the government and much of the media can now claim that race, sex and other discrimination are rampant, considering how many anti-discrimination cases have been "won."

At the heart of these legal charades is the prevailing dogma that statistical disparities in employment — or mortgage lending, or anything else — show discrimination. In both the Federal Express case and the earlier Sears case, statistical differences between the mix of the workforce and the population mix were the key evidence presented to show discrimination.

In the Sears case, there was not even one woman who worked in any of the company's 900 stores who claimed to have been discriminated against. It was all a matter of statistics — and of the arbitrary dogma that statistical disparities show discrimination.

Once statistical disparities have been demonstrated, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to prove his innocence, contrary to centuries of legal tradition that the burden of proof in on the accuser.

No burden of proof whatever is put on those who argue as if there would be a random distribution of racial and other groups in the absence of discrimination.

Happenstances may be random but performances seldom are.

Most people are right-handed but, among major league hitters with lifetime batting averages of .330 and up, there have been 15 left-handed batters and only 5 right-handed batters since the beginning of the 20th century. All the best-selling beers in the United States were created by people of German ancestry. Anyone who follows professional basketball knows that most of the leading stars are black.

Some years ago, a study of National Merit Scholarship finalists found that more than half were first-born children, even in five-child families. Jews are less than one percent of the world's population but they won 14 percent of the Nobel Prizes in literature and the sciences during the first half of the 20th century, and 29 percent during the second half.

It would be no problem at all to fill this whole column — or this entire page — with examples from around the world of gross statistical disparities in outcomes, in situations where discrimination was not involved. But those who take the opposite view — that numbers show discrimination — do not have to produce one speck of evidence to back up that sweeping conclusion.

Human beings are not random events. Individuals and groups have different histories, cultures, skills and attitudes. Why would anyone expect them to be distributed anywhere in a pattern based on statistical theories of random events? Much less make the absence of such a pattern become a basis for multimillion dollar lawsuits?

However little evidence or logic there may be behind the belief that an absence of random distribution shows discrimination, there are nevertheless strong incentives for some people to cling to that belief anyway. Those who lag behind — whether educationally, economically or otherwise — have every incentive to think of themselves as victims of those who are more successful.

Those who want their votes have every incentive to go along, or even to actively promote that idea. So do those who want to see issues as moral melodramas, starring themselves on the side of the angels against the forces of evil. The net result is an invincible dogma — and a polarized country.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



5 Comments | Post Comment
I'm actually curious about the argument behind this case. I'm a white male that was laid off at FedEx Services a couple of years ago due to my race.

They laid off 500 of us, most of us the newest in the department. The names were selected by HR with no use of performance evaluations. The lawyer in the room when I was laid off told me that they looked at the overall racial makeup of the people they were laying off, and it didn't match the racial makeup of FedEx.

So, I was laid off even though I wasn't the newest in my department because they didn't have enough white males on the layoff list and needed to meet their quota. Of course, I had to sign an agreement not to sue them in order to get my severance package. With the prospect of losing my house if I didn't sign, my choice was already made.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Lawson Culver
Mon Apr 2, 2012 10:42 AM
The use of statistics to "prove" discrimination in court cases has to be stopped, one way or another, or we won't have a country left. If you trace our recent economic troubles back to their roots, one of the major causes was the claim that banks were refusing to lend to minorities based on nothing more than their race. Despite the fact that these claims were never proven by anything other than bogus statistics, laws and policies were changed to correct this non-existent problem. Then, various activist groups (such as ACORN) began campaigns of extorting concessions from banks, both in cash and in the form of relaxed lending standards. The rest is history.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Jeff Gunn
Mon Apr 2, 2012 10:57 PM
Re: Lawson Culver

Basically, you were paid off by FedEx in order to prevent the sort of lawsuit that would have resulted had they laid people off strictly be seniority. The probably didn't need to bother with the agreement not to sue them. As a white male, you wouldn't have found an attorney willing to take your case, anyway.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Jeff Gunn
Mon Apr 2, 2012 11:02 PM
If these corrupt politiicians would stop taking bribes from the ABA then we could actually get tort reform to stop all of these frivilous lawsutis. Rick Perry did it in Texas and business is booming there relative to the rest of the country.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Thetruth
Sun Apr 8, 2012 7:30 AM
Re: Jeff Gunn
Actually he could have taken them to task. While being Anglo might not have carried any water, there are myriad dynamics within the workplace which afford "cover". Having ever spoken about work conditions with subtext from father's maternity leave to co-workers wearing perfumes or cologne then force "worker's rights" issues to the forefront of the conversation and creates a perspective for being "let go" well apart from that which the company itself is prepared to defend. I've seen this work firsthand and myself was told from above that it was "not worth the battle". So in the end a man went from being an active crew member being supplanted by a person of obvious minority status (this time being First Nations) to being the extra "safety guy" sitting at a table watching a phone 4-on 4-off 12's at $30/hr.
Nuggets like the above are reserved for friends and family members of the union hierarchy as this card played too often loses its bite.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Alan_F
Fri Apr 13, 2012 9:02 AM
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