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Can Employers Discriminate without Treating Some Employees Worse Than Others? Discrimination, the Comparative View, and Relational Equality

New publication by Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen in Julian David Jonker (ed.) & Grant J. Rozeboom's (ed.) "Working as Equals: Relational Egalitarianism and the Workplace" by Oxford University Press



According to a widespread view, discrimination is comparative in the following sense: for a discriminator to discriminate against a discriminatee, there must be a relevant third party—a “comparator”—whom the discriminator treats better in a similar situation. This view—the Simple View—is naturally associated with relational egalitarianism in that it implies that discrimination involves not relating as equals. However, this chapter argues that the Simple View is false. While the chapter accepts that discrimination is essentially comparative in some less simple way, it is possible to discriminate without treating anyone—actual or hypothetical—better than the discriminatee. Nevertheless, while such non-comparator-involving discrimination seems compatible with individuals relating as equals on a natural understanding of what such a relation involves, it violates the moral impulse behind relational egalitarianism. Accordingly, this chapter proposes a revisionist understanding of that ideal, according to which individuals can relate as equals and nevertheless violate relational egalitarianism. One practical upshot of this claim is that relational egalitarians can be sympathetic to a broader understanding of (wrongful) discrimination than that permitted by the Simple View.