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Conservative groups are challenging corporate efforts to diversify workforce

Corporate diversity programs under attack
Conservatives attack corporate diversity programs in wake of affirmative action ruling 06:21

U.S. corporations that vowed to diversify their workforces three years ago are now seeing those goals come under fire by conservative legal groups. 

America First Legal and the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, two right-leaning nonprofits, have filed lawsuits in recent years against employers like Texas A&M University, Target and Kellogg's, challenging their efforts toward diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. 

Conservative legal groups have been fighting diversity hiring practices for years but the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June to strike down affirmative action in college admissions has added fuel to their engine, Lauren Weber, a Wall Street Journal reporter, told CBS News. 

"The affirmative action case which you mention addressed higher education; it did not address any of these employment programs — but that may be the next frontier, and I think that's partly what these groups are counting on," Weber said.

Affirmative action decision sparks concerns about workplace diversity 05:10

In a more recent DEI legal challenge, America First Legal filed a lawsuit against Nordstrom in June arguing that the clothing retailer's goal of increasing representation of Black and Latino people in manager roles by at least 50% by the end of 2025 is discriminatory because it is race-based. 

Conservative legal groups are using two federal laws — the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 — as the main foundation for many of their DEI challenges, Weber said. The use of those laws by conservatives is noteworthy because they were passed decades ago with hopes of expanding employment opportunities for people of color, she said. 

"So, you see these same tools that were used to expand opportunity, now being used to challenge these DEI programs," Weber said. "None of the laws have changed here, but I think the question of what are the practical risks with some of the programs has changed."

"Committed as ever"

While more lawsuits may lead some employers to ease back on diversity programs, Weber said, many plan to forge ahead —even if it means a court battle. 

"Some companies that are more risk-averse may pull back, but many companies we've spoken to said 'Nope, we are not changing anything. We are as committed as ever,'" she said. "This comes down to a fundamental question of 'Does equal opportunity exist in the American workplace and American corporations?'"

During the pandemic and in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Minnesota, some of the nation's largest companies vowed to increase diversity among their corporate ranks. Best Buy and Starbucks, for example, aspired to fill a third of their corporate jobs with people of color by 2025. Adidas, Facebook, Google, Wells Fargo and Microsoft had similar goals. 

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Labor challenged those hiring goals in 2020, arguing that basing hirings targets largely on race was discriminatory. 

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