Conservatives Wage Lawfare Against Discriminatory DEI Practices at Law Firms

Evan Poellinger | December 13, 2023
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A number of conservative groups and Republican officials have begun to take legal action against law firms over the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) ideology in their hiring process.

The Washington Post reports that the American Alliance for Equal Rights has sued or sent letters to several law firms which maintain diversity fellowships, alleging that the fellowships “exclude qualified white and Asian students based on race.”

In addition, five Republican state attorneys general have sent letters to law firms alerting them to the prospect of legal action, alleging that “racial discrimination in employment and contracting may be commonplace.”

The Washington Post reports that the lawsuits have proven fruitful. Three law firms opened their diversity fellowships to include applicants of all races, while a fourth law firm targeted by the American Alliance for Equal rights put an end to its diversity fellowship altogether.

The success of the lawsuit has been attributed, in part, to the nature of law firms being particularly wary of litigation against them, while other factors include the American Alliance for Equal Rights’ contention that “many law firms have been some of the most enthusiastic and outspoken entities to restrict opportunities to resources based on race and ethnicity.”

Meanwhile, the attorney generals’ letter also points to the prospect of state governments taking action against DEI in law firms’ hiring practices.

The five attorneys general who sent letters are Austin Knudsen of Montana, Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Brenna Bird of Iowa, Kris Kobach of Kansas, and Daniel Cameron of Kentucky. The letter expressed concern that law firms were exhibiting racial preference in hiring, citing statistics which showed “79 percent of law firms ‘require diversity within a pool of candidates for management and leadership roles,’” and that “57 percent of firms ‘tie a component of partner compensation to diversity efforts.’” The letter declared that “race based employment and contracting violate both state and federal law” and demanded that firms engaged in the practice “immediately terminate any unlawful race-based quotas or preferences.”

While initial DEI rollback may initially have been associated with public institutions and universities, it appears that DEI initiatives in the corporate world and elsewhere are now also subject to scrutiny.