Place aux Dames: The Ideological Divide Between U.S. and European Gender Discrimination Laws

58 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2009 Last revised: 2 Apr 2015

See all articles by Jens Dammann

Jens Dammann

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law; European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)

Date Written: May 4, 2009


The United States and the European Union are both firmly committed to eliminating gender discrimination. However, as I show in this article, they have adopted fundamentally different strategies in pursuing this objective: whereas the United States offers plaintiffs much more generous procedural rules and far more powerful remedies, the European Union relies on more comprehensive substantive prohibitions against discrimination.

What lies behind these different approaches? Contrary to existing scholarship, which emphasizes path dependence arguments, I argue that differences between gender discrimination laws in the United States and Europe can best be understood as the result of a fundamental ideological divide. U.S. law is designed to grant protection against discrimination across social boundaries. By contrast, much of Europe espouses a “social-democratic” conception of gender discrimination law that views the protection of working-class employees as its primary concern.

Several European countries have recently adopted or are considering the adoption of mandatory gender quotas for corporate boards. However, as I demonstrate in this article, such quotas merely address the symptoms of a much more foundational issue. European gender discrimination law is designed to protect working-class women, not women with managerial aspirations. Quotas cannot redress this imbalance; they can merely hide its symptoms. Accordingly, European reformers who aspire to a more class-neutral gender discrimination law will have to consider much more profound structural changes.

Keywords: discrimination, sex, gender, employment discrimination, gender discrimination, sex discrimination, Title VII, equal treatment, class

JEL Classification: J70, J71, J78, J79, K31, K19, K33

Suggested Citation

Dammann, Jens, Place aux Dames: The Ideological Divide Between U.S. and European Gender Discrimination Laws (May 4, 2009). Cornell International Law Journal, Forthcoming; U of Texas Law, Law and Econ Research Paper No. 152. Available at SSRN:

Jens Dammann (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )

727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States

European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI) ( email )

c/o the Royal Academies of Belgium
Rue Ducale 1 Hertogsstraat
1000 Brussels

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