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Attorney general threatens Fortune 100 companies order with legal action for race-based policies

Attorneys General Brenna Bird of Iowa, Mike Hilgers of Nebraska and Andrew Bailey of Missouri, from left, are among attorneys general who are warning top corporations against using race-based policies in employment. They are shown here outside the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2023. (Photo courtesy of Nebraska Attorney General's Office)

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is among a coalition warning the nation’s largest companies — many of which have diversity and equity programs — they could face legal action for using race-based policies.

A Thursday letter from Bird and 12 other attorneys general put Fortune 100 companies on notice they could be hit with legal action for violating the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College, which put an end to using race as a basis for admitting students to college. The attorneys general are targeting hiring and contracting too.

“As the Supreme Court recently emphasized, both our Constitution and our civil rights laws guarantee every American the right to be free from racial discrimination,” Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan  Skrmetti said in a release. “The Court’s reasoning means that companies, no matter their motivation, cannot treat people differently based on the color of their skin. Corporate America continues to have many avenues to help disadvantaged people and communities of all races without resorting to crude racial line-drawing.”

The letter compares policies within many Fortune 100 companies to slavery and racial segregation.

“In an inversion of the odious discriminatory practices of the distant past, today’s major companies adopt explicitly race-based initiatives which are similarly illegal,” the letter says, pointing toward “racial quotas” in hiring, recruiting, retention, promotion and advancement.

The letter immediately reminds companies they must refrain from “discriminating on the basis of race, whether under the label of ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ or otherwise. Treating people differently because of the color of their skin, even for benign purposes, is unlawful and wrong.”

The Supreme Court ruling struck down race-based admissions policies at Harvard College and the University of North Carolina.

The letter says the court’s decision “reinforced the principle that all racial discrimination, no matter the motivation, is insidious and unlawful,” which means eliminating “all of it.”

The attorneys general asked the companies to comply with race-neutral principles in their employment and hiring practices.

The letter further says: “If your company previously resorted to racial preferences or naked quotas to offset its bigotry, that discriminatory path is now definitively closed. Your company must overcome its underlying bias and treat all employees, all applicants, and all contractors equally, without regard for race.”

The letter, addressed “Dear Fortune 100 CEOs,” targets JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, as well as Airbnb, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Intel, Lyft, Microsoft, Netflix, Paypal, Snapchat, TikTok, Uber and others.

Among the nation’s top 100 companies doing business in Iowa are Wells Fargo and Deere & Co., which have ongoing diversity and inclusion corporate initiatives.

“At Wells Fargo, we believe that focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion is key to being one of the world’s great companies. It’s a business imperative that lets us take advantage of the creation and innovation that comes from multiple perspectives,” the financial services company says on its website.

Deere & Co.’s website cites a diverse workforce as part of a global mission: “The world is counting on us to feed billions of people and build vital infrastructure in villages, towns, and megacities. We believe by strengthening the diversity of our workforce, we can give everyone their chance to leap forward. That’s why we celebrate diversity, champion equity, and promote inclusiveness so every employee can make the greatest impact as their true self.”

Yet the letter from attorneys general quotes the Supreme Court’s rejection of racial quotas and preferences, saying the court wrote in 2007 in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District: “[Racial] classifications promote ‘notions of racial inferiority and lead to a politics of racial hostility, ‘reinforce the belief, held by too many for too much of our history, that individuals should be judged by the color of their skin,’ and ‘endorse race-based reasoning and the conception of a Nation divided into racial blocs, thus contributing to an escalation of racial hostility and conflict.”

Sections prohibiting racial discrimination in employment are taken from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to make their attorneys general legal argument.

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Sam Stockard ǀ Tennessee Lookout
Sam Stockard ǀ Tennessee Lookout

Sam Stockard is a reporter for Tennessee Lookout. He is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children. Reach Anita at [email protected]. Twitter: @anitawadhwani