AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott’s office is warning state agency and public university leaders this week that the use of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives — policies that support groups who have been historically underrepresented or discriminated against — is illegal in hiring.
In a memo written Monday, Abbott’s chief of staff Gardner Pate writes that diversity, equity, and inclusion policies have “been manipulated to push policies that expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.”
Pate said DEI initiatives illegally discriminate against certain demographic groups — though he did not specify which ones he was talking about.
Diversity, equity and inclusion is a moniker used for policies developed to provide guidance in workplaces, government offices and college campuses intended to increase representation and foster an environment that emphasizes fair treatment to groups that have historically faced discrimination. DEI policies can include resources for underrepresented groups, which can include people with disabilities, LGBTQ people and veterans. In hiring, it can include setting diversity goals or setting thresholds to ensure that a certain number of diverse candidates are interviewed. At universities, DEI offices are often focused on helping students of color or nontraditional students stay in school and graduate.
The governor’s directive represents the latest effort by Republican leaders fighting back against policies and academic disciplines that Republicans nationwide have deemed “woke.” DEI, along with critical race theory, has become a target of conservatives who argue that white people are being unfairly treated or characterized in schools and workplaces.
“Rebranding this employment discrimination as ‘DEI’ doesn’t make the practice any less illegal,” Pate wrote. “Further, when a state agency spends taxpayer dollars to fund offices, departments, or employee positions dedicated to promoting forbidden DEI initiatives, such actions are also inconsistent with the law.”
Gov. Abbott's office released the following statement after the memo was released:
“The letter from the Governor’s chief of staff is a reminder that state agencies and public universities must follow federal and state law in their hiring practices. Both federal and state law make equity quotas illegal. Equity is not equality. Here in Texas, we give people a chance to advance based on talent and merit. Aspiring to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream, we should not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character.”
Andrew Eckhous, an Austin-based lawyer for Kaplan Law Firm, which specializes in employment and civil rights litigation, said the governor’s office is “completely mischaracterizing DEI’s role in employment decisions” in an apparent attempt to block initiatives that improve diversity.
“Anti-discrimination laws protect all Americans by ensuring that employers do not make hiring decisions based on race, religion, or gender, while DEI initiatives work in tandem with those laws to encourage companies to solicit applications from a wide range of applicants, which is legal and beneficial,” Eckhous said in an email.
“The only piece of news in this letter is that Governor Abbott is trying to stop diversity initiatives for the apparent benefit of some unnamed demographic that he refuses to disclose,” he added.
President of Houston's NAACP, Bishop James Dixon, said disparities still exist from discriminatory policies from decades ago.
“We have still a long way to go, and for that to be released in Black History Month is even more of an insult,” he said.
KHOU 11 political analyst Bob Stein says the memo sends a message to Abbott’s base.
“It’s all about messaging to people who might consider him a viable candidate for, and you can fill in the blank: president, vice president, maybe even a cabinet appointment," Stein said.
Bishop Dixon expects the NAACP to respond with a letter stating their opposition and calling for public discussion on this issue.
Going beyond just Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on the consideration of race in college admissions.
Many experts believe that decision will have a ripple effect on private businesses.
Part of this story comes from our KHOU 11 News partners at The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans - and engages with them - about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.