Executive Order on Diversity Training Gets A Lawsuit

Today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund initiated a lawsuit against President Trump, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, and the Department of Labor over Executive Order 13950, otherwise known as “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” Purported to keep un-American concepts like white privilege, implicit bias, and any subject that may cause someone to feel guilty out of diversity training for federal contractors, the EO guts these fundamental concepts from training designed to make our workplaces more inclusive. Coming from a President who failed to condemn white supremacy when given the opportunity at a presidential debate, the EO does not hope for an end to discrimination and harassment or even bring Americans together.

The lawsuit is based, in part, on the First Amendment. As you all know, the First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging the freedom of speech. Here, the EO prohibits some kinds of speech by federal contractors in their diversity trainings. The lawsuit looks like it has merit on this point. But, it will take some time to work its way through the courts.

Quite frankly, the EO was designed to end diversity training. Period. And, it has been effective. An October 13 New York Times article described how human resources departments have been quick to scrap plans for training. The State Department and USAID – the agencies charged with sending Americans to all corners of the world to represent our interests and help struggling countries – ended their diversity training.

Even the biggest pro-business group out there, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, thinks the EO is a bad idea. Along with over 150 groups, the Chamber sent an open letter to President Trump asking he withdraw the EO. Like the Chamber, the Business Roundtable said the EO was “already having a broadly chilling effect on legitimate and valuable” training that makes workplaces better.

Note, the EO only affects new federal contracts entered into after November 21 and quite possibly will be immediately withdrawn if former Vice President Biden becomes President on January 20, 2021. It’s possible that as the lawsuit progresses, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund will request an injunction to prevent the EO from going into effect. Stay tuned!

Diversity training that addresses concepts like harassment, microaggressions, and bias is essential to creating workplaces that are inclusive, innovative, and effective. Before you press the breaks on training for your org, consider what message that sends.

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