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What Lawyers Should Know About Discrimination in Technology

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Chris Dehler
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Modern technology can be an incredible resource for the legal profession, but it’s far from a panacea. Discrimination lawyers would likely be the first to point out that there’s a dark side to today’s tech, too. Discriminatory practices can quickly overshadow all the benefits..

Lawyers don’t need to become modern-day Luddites, waging war on technology, but they should be aware of its shortcomings. Given today’s social climate, it’s especially critical to understand where discrimination and technology intersect. Here’s what you need to know about this issue.

Discrimination in the Technology Sector

The tech sector is rarely far from discrimination lawyers today. The industry has a well-documented history of prejudice and bias, particularly against women. About 66% of senior-level women in Silicon Valley say they’ve been excluded from significant events because of their gender.

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Some of the most prominent discrimination cases in tech have centered on gender bias, but there are racial issues, as well. While 50% of Black workers in non-STEM fields say they’ve experienced racial discrimination at work, that number goes up to 62% in STEM. Problems with prejudice are prominent everywhere, but they’re particularly poignant in technology.

Many of these trends result from deep-seated implicit biases in American culture, which can bleed into technology itself. Perhaps most notably, in 2015, Amazon noticed an AI hiring algorithm was biased against women to the point of penalizing resumes that included the word “women’s.” Since developers trained it with mostly white male resumes, the machine learning program taught itself to prefer them.

As AI becomes increasingly prominent, issues like this will likely become more common. As a lawyer, you may have to examine potential biases within machine learning engines. Though technology isn’t inherently discriminatory, it carries the implicit prejudices of the humans who make it.

Impact on the Legal Profession

The most obvious impact this trend will have on the legal system is a rise in tech discrimination cases. Some of these will be relatively straightforward, like prejudiced hiring systems, while others will be more nuanced, like companies using biased AI. As a lawyer, staying up-to-date with the latest technology will help you in these cases.

Cutting-edge technology, like facial recognition and AI, may start to enter the courtroom. This could lead to debate and even legal action, given these technologies’ capacity for discrimination. For example, since facial recognition is less accurate with people of color, it could lead to wrongful arrests, trials and convictions.

Appropriately Approaching Tech as a Lawyer

Discrimination lawyers representing minority clients should pay careful attention to how technology has impacted them. You may see more cases where a company relied on an algorithm that exhibited racial or gender bias. When dealing with clients who work in tech, remember the industry’s historical issues with discrimination.

A tech company may count their immigrant employees to capitalize on CARES Act payments despite them not being eligible. Since the industry has a history of taking advantage of immigrant labor, you may have precedent to accuse them of this.

When it comes to using tech in your practice, it’s best to be cautious. Some technology, like social media, can provide helpful resources but can also lead to invasions of privacy. Always be sure to review state precedent and regulations covering technology use before relying on it.

Remember that technology can be more biased than people. As tempting as it may be to use AI to streamline some duties, these systems are prone to mistakes. The last thing you want is to wind up being in a discrimination case yourself because you trusted tech too much.

Technology Can Be a Double-Edged Sword for the Legal Profession

On the one hand, technology is a boon for discrimination lawyers. It can help find evidence and will likely lead to more potentially profitable cases. On the other hand, you should be careful not to rely too heavily on cutting-edge tech. Some tend to extend human biases rather than prevent them.

More than anything, it’s crucial to stay abreast of technological developments. Understand how it could harm or help you and your clients. Know how using it in a trial before it’s ready could pervert justice. You don’t need to avoid technology, but you should be careful with it.

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