The American Constitution Society has selected Patrick Berning-O’Neill, a third-year law student at the University of Chicago Law School, as the winner of the 2021 Constance Baker Motley National Student Writing Competition.
The Constance Baker Motley National Student Writing Competition is hosted annually by the American Constitution Society (ACS) and the University of Pennsylvania Law School ACS Student Chapter in honor of Constance Baker Motley’s legacy. As a civil rights attorney, Motley was the first woman elected President of the Borough of Manhattan, and the first African American woman appointed to the federal bench. Her life-long commitment to equality for all inspires attorneys across the country to this day.
In its 16th year, this year’s competition garnered dozens of entries from law students across the country. Seven finalists were selected, out of which a distinguished and diverse panel of judges chose one winner and two runners-up.
Patrick Berning-O’Neill was selected as this year’s winner based on his paper, A Reasonably Comparable Evil: Expanding Intersectional Claims Under Title VII Using Existing Precedent. In the paper, he argues that courts can and should allow a broader interpretation of discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which flatly prohibits employment discrimination “because of” race, color, religion, sex or national origin. However, while many may assume that discrimination based on a combination of more than one of these protected classes is also not allowed, courts are currently split on whether to allow intersectional claims. Recognizing that unique forms of discrimination come from social attitudes towards specific combinations of identities, Berning-O’Neill argues that individuals can use existing Supreme Court precedent to claim that intersectional discrimination is a “reasonably comparable evil” to the single-basis discrimination Congress intended to prevent in 1964 and should therefore also be prohibited under Title VII.
Read more at American Consitution Society