Briefing Room


Prof. Chamallas cited extensively in landmark ruling

November 5, 2008 | Faculty

Professor Martha Chamallas was recently cited extensively in an unprecedented ruling that rejects the use of race as a determining factor for the amount of damages awarded in tort litigation. Chamallas, who is the Robert J. Lynn Chair in Law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, has written at length on the use of race and gender in such cases. Judge Jack Weinstein, a Senior U.S. District Judge, drew upon Chamallas’ research several times in his landmark ruling in the case McMillan v. City of New York.

James McMillan was one of several people severely injured when a Staten Island ferry struck a pier in 2003 (11 people died as a result of the crash). A lawsuit was filed against the city of New York, which operated the ferry. The city of New York introduced evidence, including McMillan’s race (African American), to determine his life expectancy and the city’s liability for future medical expenses and pain and suffering. The evidence suggested that African Americans with spinal cord injuries were likely to live fewer years than persons of other races. Judge Weinstein declared that there was no factual basis for discriminating against claimants based upon their race and that using race-based data in such circumstances was unconstitutional.

Judge Weinstein relies upon Prof. Chamallas’ words when applying his interpretation of the law, “The American reality reflects that ‘people do not fall naturally into discrete racial groupings’ and ‘[l]egal classifications of race tend to be unrefined and often reflect ignorance of differences within a given category.’” He points out that it would be absurd to categorize someone like Barack Obama as either white or black for purposes of calculating a damage award.

Judge Weinstein specifically cites two of Prof. Chamallas’ articles on the topic: “Questioning the Use of Race-Specific and Gender-Specific Economic Data in Tort Litigation: A Constitutional Argument”, published in the Loyola Law Review in 1994; and “Civil Rights in Ordinary Tort Cases: Race, Gender, and the Calculation of Economic Loss”, published in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review in 2005.

He aligns his ruling with Chamallas’ continued call for the elimination of the use of race and gender-based calculations by courts in damage awards. Chamallas has argued that such reform is necessary to link “tort law with our developing understanding of civil and human rights.”

Chamallas explains that in calculating loss of future income capacity, “it is commonplace for expert witnesses to rely on gender and race-based tables to determine both the number of years that a plaintiff would likely have worked … and the likely annual income the plaintiff would have earned,” Prof. Chamallas wrote in the 2005 article. “As a practical matter, the use of race and gender-based tables results in significantly lower awards for minority men and women of all races. It also means that the historical patterns of discrimination in the labor market are replicated in tort awards, even though the labor force participation of women and minorities may be changing rapidly.”

Prof. Chamallas is a leading scholar in a number of fields, including employment discrimination law, torts, and legal issues affecting women. Following graduation from law school, Professor Chamallas clerked for the Honorable Charles Clark of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and served as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of the Solicitor, Civil Rights Division.

Prior to joining the Moritz College of Law in 2002, Professor Chamallas was on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She has taught at Louisiana State University Law Center, the University of Iowa College of Law, Washington University School of Law, and the University of Richmond School of Law.