New Report: Audit Testing Could be Vital Tool in Identifying, Combatting Employment Discrimination


Merrie Snead,

Sarah Faruqui,


The Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School, National Employment Law Project, argue use of selective audits could incentivize employers to proactively eliminate bias in hiring processes

New York, NY – A new report released today recommends the use of audit testing, a tool that can proactively identify discrimination in the hiring process, by public agencies at all levels aiming to combat employment discrimination. The report, from the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School, and the National Employment Law Project, argues that such audits, performed on a systematic basis, could be relatively easily and inexpensively administered in virtually every sector of the U.S. economy. Almost 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, race-based employment discrimination persists, which is why the report authors call for a more proactive approach to advance racial equity in workplaces.

The report, “Shifting the Burden of Proof: Using Audit Testing to Proactively Root Out Workplace Discrimination,” offers audit testing, also referred to as matched-pair testing, as a more proactive approach to identifying employment discrimination. In audit testing in employment, two or more individuals who are carefully matched except for one key characteristic – race, gender, national origin, age, LGBTQ status, a disability, etc. – pursue the same position. Depending on the methodology of the test, they may seek employment through correspondence studies that rely on sending written resumes, calling prospective employers about a job announcement. The results – for example, who gets to the next stage in the application process and who does not, or simply how different applicants are treated – can be analyzed to assess discrimination based on the key characteristic, often a protected class under relevant laws.

Currently, workers bear the burden of alerting their employers about experiences of racial discrimination. Additionally, workers cannot rely on government agencies, as they rarely intervene affirmatively to uncover and penalize inequitable hiring practices. The report posits that if audit testing is implemented and employers understand its potential for enforcement, they may be more proactive in avoiding discrimination by implementing well-established anti-bias practices in their hiring processes. Consequently, audit testing can become a key tool in efforts to dismantle occupational segregation – the overrepresentation of a demographic group in certain types of jobs – and build an inclusive economy that levels the playing field for workers of color.

“A lion share of our current legal and employment infrastructure burdens the individual with the detection, reporting and prosecution for labor market discrimination. In essence, if a worker perceives that they are discriminated against, they are responsible to make a claim,” said Darrick Hamilton, co-author of the report and Founding Director of The Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School. “Given the inordinate power difference and asymmetric information between employers and workers in the workplace, such a burden is inefficient, often impractical, and ultimately unjust.  If we as a society really value equitable and fair workplaces, then it is the state’s responsibility to proactively detect, measure, and prosecute workplace maleficence and discriminatory behavior. This paper provides a pathway for the state to achieve this fiduciary responsibility.”

Audit testing can change employers’ behavior, regardless of whether agencies ultimately target them for enforcement. The authors therefore recommend that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), as well as state and local fair employment practices agencies (FEPAs) revisit the potential of deploying audit testing in an effort to advance racial equity.

“Across all job categories and industries, workers who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, especially Black workers, are still significantly impacted by racial discrimination and other disparities at every step of the way, from hiring to promotions,” said Rebecca Dixon, co-author of the report and Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “More than a half-century after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, race-based employment discrimination persists. By deploying audit testing in identifying such discrimination, we can take a major, overdue, step towards eliminating employment bias.”

The authors point to a number of groundbreaking economic studies, including some funded by both private philanthropy and federal agencies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, that use audit testing to measure discrimination in employment and rental housing and homebuying markets as evidence of the tool’s viability. The authors also cite policies recently adopted in Milwaukee and New York City as a glimpse of what’s possible at the municipal level. The exciting conclusion: audit testing of employment practices works, and the time is now for government leaders to get serious about funding and implementing it.



The Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy examines the intersections of race, social stratification, power, and political economy. Our work advances innovative models and practical solutions that promote economic inclusion, social equity, civic engagement and racial and economic justice. Through these efforts, the Institute engages in strategic partnerships and produces actionable research intended to move policy and practice in fundamentally new directions that promote more broadly shared prosperity across race, gender, nativity, ethnicity, sexual orientation and their intersections. Visit us at

Founded in 1969, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to building a just and inclusive economy where all workers have expansive rights and thrive in good jobs. Together with local, state, and national partners, NELP advances its mission through transformative legal and policy solutions, research, capacity-building, and communications. Learn more at

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