Diversity Hiring Initiatives Are Illegal, Texas Governor's Office Says

Author: David B. Weisenfeld

February 14, 2023

In a directive written last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott warned state agencies and public universities in the Lone Star State not to use diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in hiring. While the memo focused on public employers, the implications could go further.

This marks the latest effort to restrict DEI initiatives in the workplace and schools. Last July, a Florida law known as the Stop WOKE Act placed limits on the content of workplace diversity and inclusion training, though a federal judge later granted a preliminary injunction to block the enforcement of these provisions affecting private employers.

A Warning Shot on Quotas

In Texas, Gov. Abbott's office cautioned state agencies that using DEI initiatives as an employment screening tool is unlawful and also leads to the "alienation of individuals from the workplace." His spokesperson added in a statement that both federal and state law make equity quotas illegal.

"Rather than increasing diversity in the workplace, these DEI initiatives are having the opposite effect and are being advanced in ways that proactively encourage discrimination in the workplace," the memo said.

Supreme Court to Weigh in on Affirmative Action

This issue has been a flash point in recent years. The US Supreme Court is expected to rule by June in a pair of affirmative action cases that could eliminate racial classifications and preferences in college admissions. If the Court issues a broad ruling, it may lead to more claims that diversity initiatives are illegal in universities or the workplace.

A group of major companies that collectively employ more than four million people filed an amicus brief in the cases supporting these university diversity efforts in admissions, including:

  • Apple;
  • General Electric;
  • General Motors;
  • Microsoft;
  • Starbucks; and
  • United Airlines.

"Numerous studies support the conclusion that cross-racial interactions and engagement during university contribute to essential job-related skills," their brief stated. But many observers have predicted the Court may use these cases to strike down affirmative action programs. If that happens, it could place private employers' voluntary DEI measures at risk.