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U.S. companies’ diversity efforts are legal, Democratic AGs say

The Democratic officials said GOP attorneys general were wrong to suggest recently that the Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in higher education has any impact on employers' diversity efforts.
NY Attorney General Letitia James speaks a the National Justice for Janitors Day rally at Bryant Park in New Yor on June 15, 2023.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is among the Democratic officials who pushed back on warnings from a group of GOP attorneys general about corporate diversity programs.Shawn Inglima for NY Daily News via Getty Images file
/ Source: Reuters

A group of Democratic attorneys general on Wednesday pushed back against claims by some of their Republican counterparts that many corporate workforce diversity programs amount to illegal discrimination.

In a call with reporters, the attorneys general of New York, Illinois, Nevada and four other states said 13 Republican officials were wrong to suggest last week that a recent Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in higher education has any impact on employers' diversity efforts.

The Republican AGs in letters sent to the CEOs of the 100 largest U.S. companies warned that they could take legal action against businesses that set hiring quotas or treat job applicants differently because of their race.

But on Wednesday, the Democratic officials said the vast majority of company diversity, equity and inclusion policies are designed to set aspirational goals or diversify pools of job applicants.

“There is no corporation I’m aware of that promotes quotas or openly discriminates based on a number,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said.

James and the other AGs said they wanted to make clear to companies that their states support diversity efforts and will not take legal action to dismantle them.

Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, a Republican who spearheaded last week’s letter, said in a statement that the reasoning behind the recent Supreme Court decision makes clear that companies cannot factor race into employment decisions even if they have good intentions.

“Corporate America continues to have many avenues to help disadvantaged people and communities of all races without resorting to crude racial line-drawing,” Skrmetti said.

The Supreme Court ruling last month said Harvard University’s and the University of North Carolina’s race-conscious admissions policies violated the U.S. Constitution.

The decision does not directly affect employers but is widely expected to spur legal challenges to corporate diversity initiatives that take race into account.

The Democratic AGs on Wednesday said the Supreme Court ruling has no bearing on employers’ practices and that it was misguided to compare race-conscious school admission policies to corporate diversity initiatives.

New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez said the main goal of workplace diversity programs is to address the difficulty that people from disadvantaged backgrounds — especially first generation college students — face in engaging in informal networking that often leads to jobs.

“A lot of the really qualified applicants who are women or people of color simply didn’t know these opportunities existed and how to navigate the system,” Torrez said.