Short Notes on Teaching About the Micro-Politics of Class, with Examples from Torts and Employment Law Casebooks

Susan Carle, American University Washington College of Law
Michelle Lapointe


This short Essay explores several potential teaching moments in which one might raise issues concerning the micro-politics of socioeconomic class status. I discuss cases found in popular casebooks for three course areas in which I teach: torts, employment, and employment discrimination law. I show how analysis of dynamics related to socioeconomic class in discussing case outcomes can help expose assumptions about the naturalness or inevitability of the law's withholding of dignity rights to persons of low socioeconomic status. Law can reinforce ideas that such subordination is natural to the workplace and market, when in fact those ideas are subject to potential challenge through law just as they are reinforced through it. I thus use case analysis to raise for classroom discussion the following question: Just as law can construct and enforce status hierarchies, might the notion of dignitary rights potentially be made to do positive work in law by disrupting the reinforcement of status hierarchies?