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Ordinary Citizens’ Experience of Law as a Process: The Case of Employment Discrimination in Belgium Aude Lejeune Postdoc, University of Liege & Massachusetts.

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Presentation on theme: "Ordinary Citizens’ Experience of Law as a Process: The Case of Employment Discrimination in Belgium Aude Lejeune Postdoc, University of Liege & Massachusetts."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ordinary Citizens’ Experience of Law as a Process: The Case of Employment Discrimination in Belgium Aude Lejeune Postdoc, University of Liege & Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jean-François Orianne Associate Professor, University of Liege, Law & Society Meeting, June 2011, San Francisco 1

2 Stephanie’s story Dismissal when pregnant Union lawyer -> Protection of workers “ the lawyer told me that what my employer did was not fair. He convinced me that I was not in the wrong for my action and I should litigate” Equality agency lawyer -> Anti-discrimination of women at work “the lawyer made me realize that my case could benefit other women. It was discrimination. My misfortune can have positive consequences; the situation can change at a broader level”. 2

3 Stephanie’s story “Fighting discrimination is a very long and hard process. I don’t know when my litigation will end. And at the end, I don’t know if I get much compensation. But the Institute for Equality between men and women helped me. I cannot give up now”.  Diverse understandings of her personal experience of injustice at work 3

4 Two hypothesis Hypothesis One: Several interpretations of the law by different lawyers Hypothesis Two: Relationship between how the law is interpreted and how the workers perceive their own case 4

5 Outline 1.Theoretical frame 2.Labor, Employment, and Discrimination in Belgium 3.Data collection and analysis 4.Translating workers’ complaints into legal language 5.Workers’ experience of law as a process 5

6 1. Theoretical frame Legal Consciousness Studies Sociology of Mediations 6

7 1. Theoretical frame Legal Consciousness Studies (Ewick & Silbey, 1998; Merry, 1990) Historical shift in socio-legal research The place of law in everyday life Current debate on legal consciousness issues 7

8 1. Theoretical frame Sociology of Mediations (Callon, 1996; Latour, 2005, Sturm, 2001) Mediators = legal professionals active in a range of transactions as intermediaries Focus less on facts than on processes through which facts are built 8

9 2. Belgium Main union organizations in Belgium Union rate in Belgium is high: 52% In the US: 12% In France: 8% 9

10 2. Belgium 1970s: inequality between men and women at work 1980s: includes racism and xenophobia 2000: European directives implementing equal treatment 2003: First Belgian Law against discrimination 10

11 2. Belgium Equality Agencies Created in early 2000s to deal with anti- discrimination issues 11

12 3. Data collection Open-ended interviews with o Private Lawyers o Union Lawyers o Equality Agency Lawyers o Judges o Litigants Observations Supporting archival work in litigants’ records 12

13 4. Translating workers’ complaints Two models Workers’ protection Workers’ non-discrimination Two main characteristics Legal qualification Role of jurisprudence and mobilization of courts 13

14 4. Translating workers’ complaints Legal qualification Workers’ protectionWorkers’ non-discrimination Protection legislation Defined by collective bargaining between labor-related organizations and actors Non-discrimination legislation Produced by international actors, outside the labor field 14

15 4. Translating workers’ complaints Legal qualification Workers’ protectionWorkers’ non-discrimination “I have never used anti-discrimination law. When a woman is dismissed because she is pregnant, why should I use anti- discrimination law while we have a whole bunch of laws in Belgium to protect pregnant women against dismissal? What is the gain for the victim? Nothing!” “When a young woman who has just announced her pregnancy to her employer is fired, what can we do? We have two options. First option: we defend this woman according to the law which protects pregnant women from dismissal. Second option: we consider that, beyond that particular case and story, this case reveals an accurate and social issue which is the inclusion of women between 25 and 40 in the labor market”. 15

16 4. Translating workers’ complaints Strategic mobilization of courts Workers’ protectionWorkers’ non-discrimination Application of the law One particular case Protection of individuals Strategic mobilization of courts and production of jurisprudence One particular case which reveals collective stakes Vindication of collective rights 16

17 5. Workers’ experience of the law Two main questions: How do workers think about the law? How do their representations do or do not fit with their lawyers’ interpretation?  Plaintiffs’ interpretations of the law are not consistent over time 17

18 5. Workers’ experience of the law Three conditions for mobilizing the lawyers: Injustice Victim Intentional behavior  Individual litigation  Law is a distinctive and autonomous entity affecting daily life. “Before the law” (Ewick & Silbey, 1998) 18

19 5. Workers’ experience of the law Two additional conditions for viewing the law as a collective resource: Particular case as representative Belonging to one particular group Negative aspects: Deprived of their own story 19

20 Conclusion Workers’ legal consciousness is a process International regulations have penetrated local social arenas Mediators encourage workers to conceive their discrimination as relevant for broader action 20

21 Thank you! 21


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