GOP attorneys general shift battle to affirmative action in the workplace

NEW YORK (AP) — Thirteen Republican state attorneys general are warning the CEOs of America’s 100 largest companies about the legal ramifications of using race as a factor in hiring and employment practices, demonstrating how the The Supreme Court’s recent decision dismantling affirmative action in higher education may trickle down to the workplace.

State attorneys general sent a letter to CEOs on Thursday arguing that the controversial June ruling declaring race cannot be a factor in college admissions — reversing decades-old practices aimed at diversifying careers. student bodies – could also apply to private entities, such as employers.

“Treating people differently because of the color of their skin, even for benign purposes, is illegal and wrongful,” they wrote. GOP officials have also suggested that diversity, equity and inclusion programs could be a form of discrimination.

The letter and similar actions elsewhere have raised questions about the profound implications of the Supreme Court’s decision beyond higher education. But experts note that the court’s decision itself does not directly alter the employer’s current obligations or commitments to DEI.

“The ruling itself has no legal impact on Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act), which governs employment discrimination or workplace discrimination,” Greg Hoff said. , associate attorney for the HR Policy Association, to The Associated Press.

Hoff and others say the court’s ruling only applies to higher education institutions and other entities that receive federal funding. They also note that affirmative action in college admissions is very different from DEI efforts in the workplace, which can include expanding the reach of new hires, creating employee resource groups for underrepresented workers and reducing bias in hiring through practices such as “blind” job applications.

“What we’ve seen a lot since the decision was made is political opponents of DEI… more broadly confusing affirmative action with DEI – because it serves their political purposes,” said David Glasgow, executive director of the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at New York University School of Law. “I think there’s a lot of pretty deliberate attempts to cover things up here.”

Beyond DEI, affirmative action in the workplace is technically still upheld by Supreme Court precedent, Glasgow adds. But affirmative action in the workplace is rare, and he suspects today’s court would likely overturn those cases if challenged, mirroring the college admissions decision.

Although Thursday’s letter does not mark legal action, experts expect future litigation. The letter from the attorneys general is also not the first time officials have argued that the Supreme Court’s ruling applies to private employers.

Last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, sent a letter to Target CEO Brian Cornell saying the company’s DEI program and “racial hiring quota” were discriminatory while highlighting the decision of affirmative action. Target did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment on Friday.

“They start with letters, but I don’t think they’re bluffs,” said Zamir Ben-Dan, assistant professor of law at Temple University. “It’s going to be a problem.”

Attorneys general said they would pay attention to companies’ practices in hiring employees and contractors – and called on companies including Airbnb, Facebook, Google, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and Netflix for programs intended to increase racial diversity with hires and suppliers.

In response, employers can take steps to avoid litigation, said Hoff and HR Policy Association President and CEO Tim Bartl.

“The increased risk for employers is this increased risk of litigation as a result of the ruling — but again, not because of changing obligations under Title VII,” Hoff said.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, one of the signatories, said the letter is not a warning to businesses, but rather a warning that racial preferences could be against the law. He added that the group decided to take action in part to address speculation that the Supreme Court ruling would not apply to employment.

“The court was very clear,” he said in an interview on Friday. “The appropriate response to racial discrimination is not more racial discrimination.”

Not all state attorneys general applauded last month’s ruling or are eager to enforce it outside of college admissions. Only about half of Republican AGs nationwide have signed the letter. And Democrats condemned the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision.

“For decades, the Supreme Court has supported targeted affirmative action programs to increase diversity in higher education,” said Association of Democratic Attorneys General co-chairs Aaron Ford of Nevada and Kathy Jennings of Delaware. , in a statement on June 29, calling the decision of that day. “a big step backwards that tramples on those ideals.”

Ben-Dan predicts that the results of any action taken in the workplace to undermine the DEI will mimic what has already happened when affirmative action was already weakened in higher education, noting that student enrollments nonwhites – especially black students – declined after California banned affirmative. action in 1996, for example.

“I imagine that’s going to lead to a decline in racial diversity in the workforce,” he said.

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