Attorneys general from 13 states warn Fortune 100 CEOs against racial discrimination: Must treat ALL equally

Thirteen Republican attorneys general fired off a cautionary letter to Fortune 100 CEOs on Thursday, warning them against hiring and promotion practices that discriminate “on the basis of race.”

Citing the recent Supreme Court decision that nixed affirmative action from college admissions, the attorneys general — representing Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, Iowa, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Montana — wrote to remind the CEOs of their “obligations as an employer under federal and state law to refrain from discriminating on the basis of race, whether under the label of ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ [DEI] or otherwise.”

“Treating people differently because of the color of their skin, even for benign purposes, is unlawful and wrong,” they stated. “Companies that engage in racial discrimination should and will face serious legal consequences.”

The AGs slammed the Fortune 100 companies that engage in the “odious” practice.

“Sadly, racial discrimination in employment and contracting is all too common among Fortune 100 companies and other large businesses,” they wrote. “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.”

“These discriminatory practices include, among other things, explicit racial quotas and preferences in hiring, recruiting, retention, promotion, and advancement,” they explain. “They also include race-based contracting practices, such as racial preferences and quotas in selecting suppliers, providing overt preferential treatment to customers on the basis of race, and pressuring contractors to adopt the company’s racially discriminatory quotas and preferences.”

The Republicans singled out a recent announcement from Microsoft to illustrate their point.

“Microsoft announced that it would set a quota for the number of Black-owned approved suppliers over three years and demand annual diversity disclosures from its top 100 suppliers, implying that suppliers that did not adopt their own racially discriminatory policies would suffer consequences,” they stated. “Microsoft also announced that over a three-year period, it would set quotas for transaction volumes through Black-owned banks and external managers as well as for the number of Black-owned U.S. partners.”

“Such overt and pervasive racial discrimination in the employment and contracting practices of Fortune 100 companies compels us to remind you of the obvious: Racial discrimination is both immoral and illegal,” the attorneys general wrote. “Such race-based employment and contracting violates both state and federal law, and as the chief law enforcement officers of our respective states we intend to enforce the law vigorously.”

“[T]he Supreme Court’s recent decision should place every employer and contractor on notice of the illegality of racial quotas and race-based preferences in employment and contracting practices,” they told the CEOs. “As Attorneys General, it is incumbent upon us to remind all entities operating within our respective jurisdictions of the binding nature of American anti-discrimination laws.”

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

“Social mobility is essential for the long-term viability of a democracy, and our leading institutions should continue to provide opportunities to underprivileged Americans,” they continued. “Race, though, is a poor proxy for what is fundamentally a class distinction. Responsible corporations interested in supporting underprivileged individuals and communities can find many lawful outlets to do so. But drawing crude lines based on skin color is not a lawful outlet, and it hurts more than it helps.”

“We urge you to immediately cease any unlawful race-based quotas or preferences your company has adopted for its employment and contracting practices,” the attorneys general concluded. “If you choose not to do so, know that you will be held accountable—sooner rather than later—for your decision to continue treating people differently because of the color of their skin.”

Melissa Fine

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