The National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance both have federal contracts and plan to apply for future ones.
The decree “unconstitutionally forces plaintiffs to choose between censoring speech on these important issues or giving up any opportunity to enter into a federal contract,” the groups argued in the lawsuit.
Trump’s executive order, signed last month, provided for workplace training that explores deep-rooted racism and privileges that the administration says could make white workers “uncomfortable” or guilty. The president ordered the US Department of Labor (DOL) to set up a hotline to investigate complaints about training sessions Trump called “un-American” and “focused on blame.”
Trump said he was targeting trainings based on “critical race theory,” the idea that racism has permeated American history and institutions. During the first presidential debate, Trump said these formations “teach people to hate our country.”
The directive uses a 55-year-old presidential ordinance spurred by the civil rights movement that sought to ban discriminatory practices in companies that contract with the federal government. Critics say Trump’s order turns President Lyndon B Johnson’s 1965 initiative into a vehicle for white grievances.
“The executive order smacks of totalitarian white supremacist endorsement,” Marc Morial, president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League, said in a virtual press conference. Morial called this order a “direct attack on our mission”.
According to the lawsuit, the National Urban League has a federal contract that includes the development of diversity and inclusion training programs for DOL learning programs.
The DOL says the order does not prohibit “unconscious bias” training that deals with “pre-conceptions, opinions or stereotypes” that people might have about others. But it prohibits training which implies that anyone is racist or sexist “because of their race, gender and / or national origin”.
The lawsuit, however, said the wording of the ordinance was too broad and already had a chilling effect on diversity training. Some organizations have called for words including “systemic racism” and “white privilege” to be banned from training, according to the complaint. He also cited the University of Iowa’s decision to suspend its diversity efforts for fear of losing government funding.
Michelle Lee, co-founder and CEO of Awaken, which offers workshops on diversity and inclusion, said one of her clients – a private company with a government contract – contacted shortly after the order was issued for him ask if she could omit the “white privilege” from a speech she was planning to give to her employees. Lee said she pushed back, saying she didn’t think the language would violate the order, and the company gave in.
“I gave the speech and I was very spicy. Not only did I talk about white privilege, but I extended that further to talk about the culture of white supremacy, ”Lee said.
She said another client, a nonprofit that relies on government grants, asked if Awaken plans to reformulate their training. But Lee said no professional diversity trainer would imply that a group has unconscious biases without proper context.
“Of course we’re not going to stand up and say, ‘You’re inherently racist,’ Lee said.
Within government, the US Department of Justice has suspended all diversity and inclusion training. The government also canceled training programs at the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The National Fair Housing Alliance, which currently has a contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said in the lawsuit that it regularly conducts internal trainings and discussions to address “systemic racism, unconscious bias and racial inequalities ”. These include a recent “casual conversation” with employees regarding “the perceptions of whites and other demographic groups in relation to the murder of George Floyd”.
The DOL also uses the Presidential Order of 1965 to target companies, including Microsoft and Wells Fargo, on public commitments to expand or strengthen the representation of blacks and Hispanics in leadership roles.
The government has launched investigations into the two companies, warning them against using “discriminatory practices” to achieve their goals.