You have produced a class paper or a scholarly paper which you expect to get you a good grade and will be published, resp. For whatever reason the paper gets low grade, the solid journals seem uninterested in publishing the paper.
It does you little good to impugn the judgment of your instructor or the editor and referees of the journal, or the quality of the course. It does not help to find that they did not follow the rules, or were prejudiced against you (it may hurt them, but that won't get the article published, or your grade raised)--legally and administratively you may have many legs to stand on, but I am concerned here with your research career. You may win, but you will find that five years down the people will still be wary of working with you, even if they were on you side. I don't like saying this, and I'd rather believe there are no risks here.
What you want to do is to figure out the strongest case for your work, figure out how to acknowledge and deal with reasons for your low grade or rejection--seriously, and with no rancor. If you threaten the editor, the referee, or the instructor--however subtly--you are likely to discover that your weaknesses as a writer/researcher will become more clearly indicated when people evaluate your career so far. Throwing sand in their eyes will lead to blowback that is likely to disable you.
On the other hand: You could launch a political, bureaucratic, and discipline-wide campaign. You were unfairly dealt with, and others agree with you. But you will surely need legal advice, and and campaign guidance. Stick with the facts you can ascertain. Any speculation needs to be well supported and carefully argued, Usually, this is a long haul. If there is to be bile and insult, find a surrogate to do that work, and stay above the fray.
Another interesting thing the paper leaves unsaid is what Ph.D.s who don't write academic journal articles do. The Dutch economist Arjo Klamer once wrote an essay called "Academic Dogs." (It is in David Colander and Reuven Brenner, editors, Educating Economists, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992; I haven't found it online to give a link.) He compared academic publishing to a dog show. Owners spend a lot of time training their dogs to run through some paces to impress the judges at the dog show, but how useful is that outside the arena? Klamer decided that both he and his dog would be happier by staying out of dog shows. It is implausible to me that more than 300 Ph.D.s a year from the top 30 programs have nothing to say. Rather, I strongly suspect many of them have decided that the dog show of academic publishing does not interest them. Some prefer teaching students to publishing. Others go work in nonacademic settings--consulting firms, central banks, government agencies, banks, think tanks, international organizations, etc.--and write for audiences other than the dozen people in the world who care about some narrow academic topic and are unable to make anything come of it in the world.
For recent or future Ph.D.'s who like the academic dog show, fine: you will probably do well at it. A few of you will even do work that is truly important, that changes the world a little bit or at least changes what teachers of economics teach their students about the world. For those who don't like the dog show, take heart: you were wise to have studied for your Ph.D. in economics, not English, and you have many ways of using your knowledge in a worthwhile way outside of academia, at a good salary.
From the Vanderbilt paper:
"Going further down this table, we see that one would be better off hiring a 95th percentile graduate of a typical non-top 30 department than the 70th percentile graduate of Harvard, Chicago, U. Penn,
Stanford or Yale, or an 80th percentile graduate of Berkeley, Michigan, NYU UCLA or Columbia."
From the Vanderbilt data, average rankings plus minus standard deviation:
|Department Rankings based on Graduating Cohorts' Publication Performance (1986-2000) Red is 1-4th, Green is 5-10th, Yellow is 11-15|