Money, Banks and Finance in Economic Thought

The Role of Economists in the Comparable Worth Controversy in Courts: Credibility, Value Judgements and Epistemic Power, 1980-1984

Chassonnery-Zaïgouche Cléo, CRASSH, University of Cambridge

As a way to assess the fairness of a wage system, the concept of comparable worth was built as a normative answer to structural inequalities on the labour market faced by women. The concept was also brought to courts. The paper analyses the concrete opposing views of economists involved both in the academic literature, as well as their concrete practices in courts. I first analyse the (very short) legal history of the comparable worth application. Then, I show that rejections of economists’ testimony were first based on the interpretation of the law; and sometimes because of accusation of partisanship, especially when affiliated to feminist organisations. Finally, I discuss the issue of value judgments in relation to expertise in court. I locate the value judgements in the interpretation of the concept of discrimination itself, rather than in the choice of econometric tools; while the epistemic power of expertise is based on the diffusion of the tools themselves in academia and courts, but also via the reorientation towards econometrics of the “Manne Programs” for federal judges.


Keywords: discrimination, court, expertise, comparable worth

Paper file