A black professor who argued that he was denied tenure by a college for racial reasons was recently awarded $1 million in damages. The Supreme Court of California ruled that Claremont Graduate School, one of the nation's leading colleges, was guilty of racial discrimination against Reginald Clark, prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.1
A U.S. district court has awarded $2.41 million to a woman who said a real estate management firm refused to rent an apartment to her because she has children. Carrie Titmuss, a secretary, won the award against William J. Davis Inc. in virtue of federal housing discrimination laws passed in 1989.2
A woman who argued that a firm refused to promote her to a management position because she is a woman won an award from a Los Angeles court of $20.3 million. The verdict was returned against Texaco Inc. in favor of Janella Sue Martin on the grounds of sexual discrimination. The award consisted of $5.34 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages.3
In each of these cases a firm is penalized savagely because it does not wish to do business with a person. The laws against discrimination assume that it is possible to cause a person harm by inaction, that is, by refusing to trade with him or her. Yet this assumption, like the notion of exploitation, is a myth. It rests on a fundamental misconception of what is involved in causing harm.
It is to the lasting credit of John Stuart Mill that he formulated the basic ethical principle of the liberal society: people should be free to do as they please, so