Essay Writing Samples

Case Study: Affirmative Action in the Workplace

Understanding how to view events and case studies in the context of the law is a critical skill for students. This sample essay explores a case study of a law firm hiring a black woman over a white man, and whether race played a factor in the hiring procedure.

A case of Affirmative Action

In the case of Smulderbaum, Hammers and Stein hiring a black woman, Susan, over Richard, a white man, there are differing opinions within the firm on whether or not Susan was hired due to her qualifications. Some in the firm believe she was hired in order to diversify the firm and to improve its image in the marketplace as an inclusive workplace. Others, while not commenting on the reason she was hired, are enthusiastic about her hiring and believe she will be an asset to the firm (Shaw). When qualifications and experience alone are compared, it is clear that hiring Susan is the right thing to do, but there are matters of perception clouding the issue.


There are good reasons to have a diverse staff in a law firm. In Brayley and Nguyen’s 2009 study, they found that

“highly diverse law firms generate greater revenue per lawyer and turn higher profits per partner” (1-2).

Also, a diverse workplace may improve employee morale, as employees’ beliefs about the variety of employees in a business are known to affect how they feel about their jobs (Stewart, Volpone, Avery, & McKay, 2009, 1). The better route, however, may be to work to attract a more diverse pool of applicants in order to have more varied highly-qualified applicants from which to choose, in order to avoid making a race or gender based hiring decision.

Race as the deciding factor in hiring is sometimes justified by hiring managers for what they believe is a noble reason: as a means to right past wrongs, for example. A 2008 study by Berry and Bonilla-Silva showed that this attitude was affected by whether the minority applicant or the white applicant had the higher objective score when judged by the same criteria for suitability for a position.

In the cases where the minority applicant had a similar score to the white applicant, he or she was generally favored, and the noble reasons alluded to above were often given as the reason to hire the minority applicant. When the white applicant had a higher score, however, the socially conscious reasons for hiring the minority applicant were described as less important (1). The bottom line is that while merit seems to be the most important factor, the race of an applicant does factor into hiring decisions.

Race of hiring manager

The race of the hiring manager can also be a factor, however. A 2009 Study by Giuliano, Levine & Leonard appears to show that black managers hire more black employees, and that non-black managers (including whites, Hispanics and Asians) hired fewer black applicants (1). Whether it is subconscious or not (the study did not explore motivations), a manager’s race does seem to affect hiring decisions.

In the case of hiring Susan, however, it appears she is the best candidate for the job. Richard appears to be a rising star, with everything it takes to be a partner at the firm. Being smart and driven enough to be first in his class at Yale, a Harvard MBA, and speaking three languages (Shaw) will likely make him valuable to a law office. Susan, though, has more and better experience, having worked for ten years in the kind of law Smulderbaum, Hammers and Stein specializes in. Further, she has argued cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals (Shaw), giving her quality experience in litigating at multiple levels.

The race issue in this instance is a red herring. The fact that the senior partners identified the need for diversity does not change Susan’s professional qualifications, and none of the references to hiring her by senior partners stated she was hired for her race. The firm may need to do a better job of communicating its goals and criteria for hiring to its junior partners in order to avoid the perception that race is a factor in hiring, but it does not appear the firm did anything unethical in this example.


There are differing opinions among partners regarding the ethics of hiring Susan over Richard. Some partners believe she is simply being brought on to diversify the company, and others believe she will be an asset regardless of race. In spite of the potential for race to affect the hiring decision as the studies above suggest, when the experience and qualifications of the two applicants are compared, it is apparent that in this case hiring Susan is the right thing to do.


Berry, B., & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). ‘They should hire the one with the best score’: White sensitivity to qualification decisions in affirmative action hiring decision. Ethnic & Racial Studies, 31(2), 215-242. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from the Academic Search Premier database.

Stewart, R., Volpone, S., Avery, D., & McKay, P. (2011). You support diversity, but are you ethical? Examining the interactive effects of diversity and ethical climate perceptions on turnover intentions. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from the Academic Search Premier database.

Brayley, D., & Nguyen, E. (2009). Good business: A market-based argument for law firm diversity. Journal of the Legal Profession, 34, 1-38. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from the Academic Search Premier database.

Giuliano, L., Levine, D., & Leonard, J. (2009). Manager race and the race of new hires. Journal of Labor Economics, 27(4), 589-631. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from the Business Source Complete database.

Shaw, W. H. (2011). Business ethics (7th ed., Student ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage

Journal of Business Ethics, 100(4), 581-593.

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