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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.

1 hour ago - Health

Boris Johnson announces month-long COVID-19 lockdown in U.K.

Prime Minsiter Boris Johnson. Photo: NurPhoto / Getty Images

A new national lockdown will be imposed in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country topped 1 million.

Details: Starting Thursday, people in England must stay at home, and bars and restaurants will close, except for takeout and deliveries. All non-essential retail will also be shuttered. Different households will be banned from mixing indoors. International travel, unless for business purposes, will be banned. The new measures will last through at least December 2.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The massive early vote

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Early voting in the 2020 election across the U.S. on Saturday had already reached 65.5% of 2016's total turnout, according to state data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic and its resultant social-distancing measures prompted a massive uptick in both mail-in ballots and early voting nationwide, setting up an unprecedented and potentially tumultuous count in the hours and days after the polls close on Nov. 3.