Highlighting a recent ruling on affirmative action, a group of Republican attorneys general has issued a letter to the country’s largest corporations, warning against the implementation of race-based preferences in hiring, promotions, and contracting. The letter, dispatched to Fortune 100 companies, asserts that discrimination is prevalent in numerous organizations and emphasizes that the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate race-based policies in college admissions should serve as a signal to corporate leadership. The Fortune 100 represents the largest revenue-generating companies in the United States, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Johnson & Johnson.
Signed by the attorneys general of 13 states, led by Kansas and Tennessee, the letter states the recent decision by the Supreme Court should alert every employer and contractor to the illegality of racial quotas and race-based preferences in employment and contracting practices. The signatories, the chief legal officers of their respective states, aim to curtail corporate diversity initiatives, which many conservatives view as favoring hiring and promoting individuals based on race, compromising fairness for all.
The letter explicitly targets corporate programs focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and alleged quotas and preferences in supplier selection. Companies have long sought to ensure that their workforce reflects the diversity of the multiracial nation, contending that a diverse workplace yields business benefits. According to a February poll by Pew Research, 54% of Americans believe their companies adequately prioritize diversity initiatives.
The letter requests that any race-based quotas or preferences the company has adopted for employment and contracting practices be immediately ceased. Should the company choose not to comply, they will face accountability.
In the past, American businesses could expect a uniform national market where standardized business practices were implemented across the entire country. However, notable court rulings and congressional gridlock have shifted major policy decisions to the states, where Republicans and Democrats pursue divergent priorities on issues ranging from gun laws to abortion to environmental initiatives. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that considering race in university admissions is unconstitutional, eliminating the primary tool used by highly selective schools to diversify their campuses.
Republican signatories to the letter argue that this decision sets a legal precedent that corporations should heed. However, some legal experts doubt these claims. Employment is governed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race-based hiring. Typically, corporate diversity initiatives aim to expand applicant pools or modify hiring procedures rather than prioritize one applicant over another based on race.
Nonetheless, the climate is changing, according to Roger King, an employment attorney with the HR Policy Association, a trade group of human resource professionals. While businesses remain committed to diversity, they are seeking strategies to avoid potential legal challenges, engaging in what King refers to as “litigation mitigation.”
Many businesses are getting ready for a possible attack on diversity initiatives. The letter mentions various cases where attorneys general have declared corporate diversity programs to be illegal quotas or preferences. Even if a company successfully defends itself against such allegations, the damage to its reputation would be significant.
In the letter, it is stated that racial discrimination is both immoral and illegal. The employment and contracting practices based on race violate state and federal law. As the chief law enforcement officers, they will ensure that the law is enforced strictly.
Corporate diversity efforts intensified following the murder of George Floyd by the police in mid-2020, prompting a broader examination of racial inequity in the workplace. However, there are signs that these efforts have been cooling in recent months. The letter commends corporate initiatives that fostered social mobility and opportunities for “underprivileged Americans,” as long as such progress is not a result of race-based preferences.
During an interview, Jonathan Skrmetti, the Attorney General for Tennessee and one of the people who signed the letter, expressed his belief that while seeking opportunities and perspectives from different segments of society is not wrong, making decisions solely based on skin color becomes a legal issue. Skrmetti also stated that some attorneys are eager to challenge such conduct.