Workforce

Civil rights groups sue to block diversity training order

changing demongraphics (Lightspring/Shutterstock.com) 

Three civil rights groups are suing the Trump administration in federal court to block the implementation of an executive order that cracked down on "divisive concepts" in federal and contractor diversity and inclusion training.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance are requesting an injunction to block the order from taking effect. The NUL and NFHA are suing in their capacity as federal contractors and grant recipients. They argue that the order unconstitutionally forces them to choose "between censoring speech on these important issues or forfeiting any opportunity to enter into a federal contract … or to receive federal funds as a grant recipient."

The lawsuit also alleges that the administration made the executive order with an intent to discriminate against individuals based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, and therefore violates due process.

The order and related memos look to purge diversity and inclusion training of "divisive concepts" in the federal workforce, listed including "white privilege" and "critical race theory." The order extends to trainings in federal agencies and in the workplace of federal contractors.

The executive order is set to take effect for federal contractors on Nov. 21, but the lawsuit is seeking immediate relief.

"Regardless of whatever dates or deadlines are in the executive order, the chilling effect is happening now," said Jin Hee Lee, the senior deputy director of litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Cancellations of diversity and inclusion training sessions and changes to the language in requests for training are already occurring, she said, and the choice between compliance with the order or ineligibility for entities seeking future contracts or grants is present now.

"The order is an unvarnished attempt to strip Americans of their freedoms of speech and expression," Janai Nelson, the Legal Defense Fund's Associate Director-Counsel said in a blog post about the lawsuit. "President Trump's revisionist history and desire to preserve the systemic inequalities that continue to punish women and communities of color must not be allowed to stand."

"Because NUL has been considered a subject matter expert in diversity concepts that the order targets, NUL is less likely to be awarded future contracts or grants due to its visible alignment with (and promotion of) these disfavored concepts," the groups argued in the lawsuit.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Office of Management and Budget earlier this month for documents related to the development of the order and its implementation.

Appropriators look to restore diversity training at USAID

A group of House Democrats on the Appropriations committee are asking the Trump administration to rescind the decision to pause all diversity and inclusion training in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"Given the Department's longstanding challenges to expand opportunities for people of color in its workforce, the Department should be expanding all programs with a demonstrated contribution to strengthening diversity, including training," the lawmakers said in an Oct. 30 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Signatories include Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), David Price (D-N.C.), Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) and Norma Torres (D-Calif.).

"Year after year, the Committee on Appropriations has provided both resources and direction to the Department and USAID to expand workforce diversity and to report on the status of such efforts," the members wrote in the letter. "The suspension of diversity and inclusion training demonstrates a lack of commitment from Department leadership to fully pursue this Congressionally mandated mission."

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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