Lambda Legal Sues Trump Administration over Executive Order Banning Diversity Training

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November 3, 2020
Photo by: Gage Skidmore

Lambda Legal last night filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s recent executive order that prohibits federal contractors and grantees from conducting workplace diversity trainings or engaging in grant-funded work that explicitly acknowledges and confronts the existence of structural racism and sexism in our society. The order describes trainings that cover topics such as implicit bias or critical race theory as divisive and un-American, and directs agencies to suspend or deny funding to contractors and grantees whose trainings or grant-funded activities cover these topics.

“We are fighting three epidemics—COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, and an epidemic of violence perpetrated against Black people by law enforcement,” said Camilla Taylor, Director of Constitutional Litigation, Lambda Legal. “Communities of color face shocking health disparities with respect to both COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS. Black and Brown people are more likely to get sick, and more likely to die as a result of systemic racism and sexism, structural inequities, and the role of explicit and implicit bias on the part of health care providers.

“Our plaintiffs – LGBT community centers, health care providers, HIV/AIDS service organizations, advocates for LGBT seniors, and a consultancy working in the juvenile and criminal justice systems – are committed to ending these epidemics,” Taylor added. “The work they do saves lives. But to do it, and do it effectively, they have to train people about the role of implicit bias in contributing to disparities, and explicitly acknowledge and confront systemic racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT bias. President Trump wants to silence them, but they refuse to be silenced. The LGBT community knows all too well that silence equals death.”

The Executive Order, issued September 22, 2020, and later Trump administration guidance labels the discussion of intersectionality, critical race theory, white privilege, systemic racism, or implicit or unconscious bias in diversity training as “race and sex scapegoating” and forbids agencies from “promot[ing]” these “divisive concepts.” It directs agency heads to audit internal training curricula and discontinue these trainings, and to conduct a similar audit of federal contractors, putting those contracts at risk.

“Acknowledging the truth of our nation’s history — one in which slavery, segregation, and systemic racism are an inherent part — is not ‘un-American’: it’s simply telling the truth,” said Lambda Legal CEO Kevin Jennings. “We must confront our history, and its continued present-day manifestations, honestly and squarely if we are ever to resolve the pernicious effects of our troubled history of systemic racism. The Trump Administration cannot be allowed to rewrite history and punish agencies that are attempting to train their staffs to be able to move our nation closer to the American ideal of liberty and justice for all its citizens, regardless of who they are.”

Lambda Legal filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of six organizational plaintiffs, a consulting company, and an individual plaintiff. The organizational plaintiffs include LGBT Centers, an advocacy and service organization for LGBT seniors, and HIV/AIDS health and advocacy organizations from across the country.

The organizational plaintiffs include: the Los Angeles LGBT Center; The Diversity Center in Santa Cruz, CA; AIDS Foundation of Chicago; CrescentCare in New Orleans, LA; Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, PA; and, SAGE based in New York City. The consultancy is B. Brown Consulting, a Michigan-based business with a federal contract to train correctional facility staff, governmental agencies, and nonprofits. The individual plaintiff is Dr. Ward Carpenter, co-director of Health Services at LA LGBT Center.

"The Trump Administration's vague and nonsensical executive order causes direct harm to organizations like Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center that frequently provide training to government contractors,” said Adrian Shanker, executive director, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. “In the midst of a global pandemic, we need to continue to train healthcare professionals, but the chilling effects of this Executive Order call our ability to do so into question. That's why Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is standing up to the Trump administration and seeking injunctive relief from this harmful executive order."

Lambda Legal lawyers working on the case include: Camilla Taylor; Karen Loewy; Scott Schoettes; Currey Cook; Omar Gonzalez-Pagan; and, Avatara A. Smith-Carrington. They are joined by pro-bono co-counsel from Ropes & Gray, including: Douglas Hallward-Driemeier; Kirsten Mayer; Nathalia Sosa; Jessica Soto; Thanithia Billing; Annie Monjar; Jennifer Cullinane; and Ethan Weinberg.