Richard Thompson Ford (“Moving Beyond Civil Rights ,” Op-Ed, Oct. 28) asserts that “civil rights have barely made a dent in today’s most severe and persistent social injustices” and suggests that part of the problem is an inordinate focus on “individual injuries.” Although Mr. Ford rightly addresses the importance of tackling racial inequality, he articulates an artificially narrow view of the possibilities of civil rights litigation.
Impact litigation generates benefits beyond a specific case. A prototype is Griggs v. Duke Power  (1971), an NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund case that transformed workplaces by prohibiting employment barriers unrelated to job performance but that have a racially discriminatory effect.
The legal defense fund worked with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other civil rights groups to develop the theory that led to the Griggs rule, which Congress embraced in the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Backed by the threat of litigation, this rule has resulted in broad protections that benefit untold numbers of workers.
A recent legal defense fund case  that used Griggs against the Chicago Fire Department resulted in more than 100 job opportunities for black firefighters, and it removed discriminatory barriers for thousands of others. The problems that Mr. Ford identifies are a function of how civil rights ideals have been distorted by the courts and the news media. The solution is not to abandon litigation, but to use it to advance a fairer and more inclusive society that provides opportunity to all people.
JOHN A. PAYTON
President and Director-Counsel
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
New York, Oct. 31, 2011