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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Despite laws protecting people from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, religion and sexual orientation — including last week's Supreme Court victory for LGBTQ workers — when it comes to actually holding firms accountable, the odds are stacked against workers.

Why it matters: The U.S. workplace is still rampant with discrimination, but the bulk of it is going unchecked as companies have figured out how to keep themselves out of court.

What they're saying: "If you look at the number of white people in the C-suite or attrition rates for African Americans or wage disparities, there's been very little change in the past few decades," says Linda Friedman, a Chicago lawyer who represented 700 workers in a race-discrimination lawsuit against Merrill Lynch in 2013.

  • "In my opinion, the most significant reason is there is no oversight," she says. "Entire industries have taken themselves out of the sight of the law," primarily through mandatory arbitration clauses.

By the numbers: Nearly 70% of U.S. employers with 5,000 or more workers have mandatory arbitration policies, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

  • "Under such agreements, workers whose rights are violated — for example, through employment discrimination or sexual harassment — can’t pursue their claims in court but must submit to arbitration procedures that research shows overwhelmingly favor employers," EPI's Alexander J.S. Colvin writes.
  • In total, around 60 million American workers don't have access to courts due to mandatory arbitration.

But even at firms that don't have such policies, pursuing discrimination cases is difficult, Friedman says.

  • "These cases are hard to prosecute even if you get to court. So much effort is spent in defeating the lawsuits," she says.
  • "It’s a real act of courage and resolve to file one of these lawsuits in the first place." Future employers can Google search you and quickly figure out if you were a plaintiff in a discrimination case — and that could work against you in the hiring process.

Rare counterexamples: Wells Fargo dropped its mandatory arbitration clause for sexual harassment claims in February, and, the same month, a former employee of PNC bank who said she was sexually assaulted by a male customer was awarded $2.4 million by a New Jersey jury.

Go deeper: Women with career gaps are being tapped for talent pool

Go deeper

Businesses face "take home" COVID-19 lawsuits

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

New peril for employers: Wrongful death "take home" lawsuits from the coronavirus, using the prior examples of asbestos.

Why it matters: Employers enjoy legal protections and liability caps under workers' compensation laws, but these lawsuits could skirt those protections, Reuters reports.

Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults

A vaccination center installed at the Barbara Chapel of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images

Austria's lower house of parliament voted on Thursday in favor of making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for most adults from next month.

Why it matters: The bill is expected to soon pass the upper house and be signed by President Alexander Van der Bellen in order for the law to take effect Feb. 1, per Reuters. It'd make Austria the first EU nation to impose such a sweeping mandate.

Hope King, author of Closer
Updated 6 hours ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.