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Passive bystander or active ally? The relationship between bystanders and the law in employment discrimination

Victims of employment discrimination experience many barriers in finding redress, resulting in a general problem of underreporting. One actor has been gaining attention in this regard: the bystander to instances of discrimination. While their relevance to discrimination law has been underexplored, bystanders could play a vital role. They can report, serve as witnesses and help victims to seek redress, for instance via participating in procedures before equality bodies. However, bystanders can also experience barriers to intervene.

Research on bystanders in discrimination law is scarce and focuses on sexual harassment and practical barriers. Instead, this project systematically studies the involvement of bystanders in employment discrimination cases and the barriers with legal relevance for intervention. To this end, social psychology and legal scholarship are studied in order to form a theoretical framework. Additionally, the analysis of both legal proceedings before Belgian labour courts and labour tribunals and negotiation cases through the Belgian federal equality bodies will yield empirical insight in bystanders’ legal role in employment discrimination. Moreover, by interviewing the most important actors in employment discrimination cases, in-depth data will be gained about their experiences of bystander intervention. In this way, the research will contribute to filling the theoretical gap in legal scholarship on the role of bystanders in discrimination law and formulate recommendations.


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