National Juror Perception Survey Warns that People of Different Color Have One Thing in Common: Distrust Toward Corporations
MCCA® recently partnered with DecisionQuest (now Bowne DecisionQuest) to conduct a first-of-its-kind nationwide survey to measure juror attitudes. The survey revealed some surprising results: it pointed to dissatisfaction with litigation as a solution to people's problems with corporations; a deepening distrust toward corporations among an unlikely group-white males; and despite a growing resentment toward class-action plain- tiff attorneys, a positive bias toward individual plaintiffs.
The survey revealed that anti-business sentiment is higher than ever, transcending geography, race, gender and class.
DecisionQuest's research was based on a national phone poll of 1,000 jury eligible subjects, in addition to a series of juror perception groups in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, and California, which were ranked to be the most notorious venues by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce State Liability Systems Ranking Study in January. Juror perception groups were also held in Delaware and Kansas, which were among the states ranked fairest to corporations in the Chamber survey.
A significant part of our survey was focused on issues related to race and racial discrimination. Years of civil liberties movement led to significant changes in people's attitudes toward racial discrimination and sensitized the general population to the concept of discrimination. Now, every demographic possesses jurors who sympathize with victims of prejudice. In our juror perception groups, white men told stories about being discriminated against. A black woman described a gay manager who discriminated against heterosexual employees. Many white jurors are more likely to support racial discrimination claims, if only because they fear accusations of racism by other jurors. Comfortably situated white homemakers often tend to be more sensitive to discrimination claims than union work- ers (often themselves accused of racism by minorities who have difficulty joining unions). Their concern for their husbands' jobs, or their own job prospects, makes them more sympathetic to claims of discrimination.
The survey shows that corporate America is seen as both the champion of and the worst perpetrator against racial equality. In our groups, respondents agreed that large companies often do a better job fighting discrimination because they have more people and more resources.
Smaller businesses are perceived as being less capable of establishing thorough anti-discrimination procedures, and thus allowing practices that would be prohibited in a larger company.
Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that corporate America has done an adequate-to-good job of fighting discrimination and protecting diversity in the workplace. Representatives of racial minorities tend to be slightly more critical but generally agree with the white majority of the population on this score.
In judging corporate practices, the most important aspect for jurors is not the frequency of training and the paperwork, but the proven ability of employees to communicate their concerns to the management without being punished for it, and demonstrated willingness to listen on the part of the corporations.
According to more than three-quarters of our respondents, the racial composition of the corporate management would also be important to them if they were to judge a corporation accused of racial discrimination.
Even though people give credit to corporations, they expect a great deal more from them: 87 percent believe that corporate America must increase their contribution to the community, with minorities demonstrating stronger feelings about this issue than whites. Corporate donations, with rare exceptions, are viewed as either a way to save on taxes or a public relations ploy.
More than 75 percent of educated white males, typically corporate America's most supportive demographic, feel particularly betrayed by recent business scandals and report a high level of mistrust. As a retired supervisor of a chemical company told our researchers in Baton Rouge, "everyone is on the take [in corporate America]. Some steal pencils and some people steal millions."
Most people came to believe that the system of corporate governance promotes corruption. Seventy-six percent believe that to be true with regard to the way senior executives of large companies are paid. Seventy-three percent of the population believes corporate auditors cover up for their corporate clients. Seventy-one percent expect managers and senior executives to lie on the witness stand.
Jurors hold senior management responsible because they believe that management must know absolutely everything that happens in a business from the bottom up. They believe that management is aware of every discriminatory practice-even by low level bosses; that management knows every chemical used in manufacturing, and is well versed in every detail of plant operations.
As one juror stated, "That's why they have weekly meetings." On the other hand, 85 percent believe that large corporations tend to hide information about the dangers associated with their products and their waste until the government or a lawsuit makes them tell the truth.
Seventy-eight percent believe many companies destroy documents hoping to avoid taking responsibility for things that they have done.
As the result of these changing opinions, only 24 percent of people are not angry with large corporations and even though people believe that large corporations provide better pay and benefits, 60 percent of American jurors would prefer to work for a small company.
The attitudes revealed in the survey are likely to affect jury verdicts across a broad range of issues and industries. For the first time, jurors feel that they have been touched personally by the actions of the Enrons and WorldComs – they have seen their 401[k] plans devastated and they attribute this to bad actions by corporate America.
As a result, it would appear that companies are going to have a more difficult time getting a fair day in court than in any other period in our nation's history.
As Veta Richardson of the MCCA observed, "In this survey, the attorneys who represent corporate America learned that they have their work cut out for them more than anyone could have anticipated. They can't just choose white male jurors anymore, nor can they rely on so many of the myths that have determined jury selection in the past."
Galina Davidoff holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is a director at Bowne DecisionQuest's Boston office. Her area of expertise is jury consulting on complex business litigation. Contact her at: email@example.com.
To learn more about this survey, or order an executive summary, please contact Dr. Allan H. Colman at (310) 618-9600, or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the January/February 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®