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Trump diversity training order which threatens agencies’ inclusion efforts faces lawsuit

Civil rights organizations are taking president Donald Trump to court over a directive banning inclusivity training.

Civil rights organizations are taking president Donald Trump to court over a directive banning federal agencies, contractors and grant recipients from offering ‘anti-American’ diversity training. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, together with National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance, argues that the executive order poses significant ramifications for business, including marketing agencies, many of whom had pledged to improve diversity in response to widespread concerns regarding discrimination in the workplace.

What is Trump’s executive order?

  • Last month Trump banned the use of workplace training programs designed to root out racism and privilege, arguing that may make white workers feel ’discomfort’.

  • In practice, this forces organizations to choose between going ahead with planned diversity training or risk forfeiting opportunities to enter into federal contracts.

  • As part of the crackdown, the US Department of Labor was ordered to set up a hotline to field complaints about employee training programmes that have been labelled ’anti-American’ and ’blame focused’ by the president.

  • Currently on the campaign trail ahead of tomorrow’s presidential election, Trump justified his order as necessary to avoid ’teaching people to hate our country’, by promoting the idea that racism is culturally entrenched within American history and institutions.

  • To do so Trump resurrected a 1965 presidential order by president Lyndon B Johnson which sought to outlaw discriminatory practices among companies bidding for public funds.

How have civil rights groups reacted?

  • Both the National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance have won federal contracts in the past and fear the order jeopardizes their chances of obtaining future work.

  • They argue that the executive order ’unconstitutionally forces Plaintiffs to choose between censoring speech on these important issues or forfeiting any opportunity to enter into a federal contract’.

  • Castigating the order Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League said: “The executive order smacks of a totalitarian endorsement of white supremacy.“

  • Critics contend that Trump is fueling white grievances for political ends and risks a chilling effect on moves to develop diversity and inclusion training.

What has the US government said?

  • The Department of Labor has said that it is confident of seeing off the lawsuit, maintaining that the order does not ban ‘unconscious bias‘ in terms of discussing ‘pre-conceptions, opinions, or stereotypes‘ in the workplace.

  • It maintains that it only wishes to prevent training from implying that anyone is racist or sexist ‘by virtue of his or her race, sex, and/or national origin‘.

What does this mean for agencies?

  • Agencies will need to tread cautiously to avoid falling foul of the ruling, at risk of having government contracts cancelled or terminated and being frozen out of future work.

  • Details on all diversity training programs and workshops provided to employees must be handed over to a Federal Register to determine who complies with the law.

  • Contentious terminology such as ‘white privilege‘ and ‘unconscious bias‘ will become much harder to employ without violating the order.