Reckoning With Race Discrimination In Federal Workplaces

On January 20, 2021, in one of his first acts as the 46th President of the United States, President Biden revoked an executive order (EO) barring government contractors, including subcontractors and grantees of federal funds, from certain types of racial sensitivity training in the workplace.

Indeed, the link to the former training ban no longer works.

A Focus On Equity

Under the prior EO, government contractors could not provide or use any workplace training “that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex-stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.” The former EO labeled such training as “divisive” and provided examples of specific concepts that would be prohibited in such training. 

President Biden walked that whole concept back.

In its stead, President Biden signed a wide-ranging executive order requiring all federal agencies to make equity a central factor in their work. The stated goal is for “the Federal Government [to] pursue a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, including people of color… .” 

Because advancing equity requires a systematic approach to embedding fairness in decision-making processes, executive departments and agencies (agencies) must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.

In fact, the clock has started on this directive—federal agencies must deliver a report within 200 days addressing how they plan to remove barriers to opportunities in their various policies and programs, including hurdles faced in agency procurement and federal contracting opportunities.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

This EO, and others decrying LGBTQ discrimination, sex discrimination, and other forms of unlawful discrimination (which I will definitely get to soon!), makes a bold statement—it focuses on “equity,” defined as

the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; …

President Biden is not playing. His administration must know that people “follow the leader.” Eradicating this divisive ban on certain types of diversity and inclusion training that highlights racism and sex stereotyping is a solid first step.

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion training

Anyway, this fact sheet itemizes diversity training, explaining that President Biden’s revocation of the former EO puts a stop to limiting “the ability of federal government agencies, contractors and even some grantees from implementing important and needed diversity and inclusion training.”

Back in July 2020, I recounted a complaint that alleged overt incidents of racism and antisemitism, including threats to lynch Black employees and a noose found hanging in the workplace.

While that case stemmed from conduct in a private workplace (v. among federal employees and government contractors), it illustrates the long-standing tolerance of insidious racial discrimination in America’s workplaces.

Employer Takeaway

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion, and using training to prevent its occurrence, tolerance, and continuation, can drive change.

As I told you here, employers should provide an understanding of diversity as an organizational goal and business plan. It goes hand in hand with a company’s anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies.

Leadership matters. Let’s hope the intent of this new EO to promote equity and inclusion incites and promotes diverse and inclusive workplaces across the board. D&I consultants, business may be picking up!

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Amy Epstein Gluck

Amy Epstein Gluck has represented individuals and corporate clients in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and various federal district courts for more than twenty years. Ms. Epstein Gluck’s current practice areas include employment law—advising on and drafting employment agreements; handling employment negotiations, severance agreements, noncompete and nondisclosure agreements, “wrongful terminations” and other EEO matters; representation at the EEOC level; advising employers about discrimination laws and how to remain in compliance, and employment negotiations.