Democrat AGs Scramble To Convince Companies DEI Is Still Legal

New York attorney general Letitia James (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
July 20, 2023

A group of Democratic U.S. state attorneys general are scrambling to push 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 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in higher education has any impact on employer's 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 heneral 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.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Daniel Wallis)