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NAACP Lays Down First Challenge to Executive Order 13950 Prohibiting Inclusion of “Divisive” Concepts In Workplace Training Programs

The first legal challenge to Executive Order 13950 (the “Order”) has been made. On October 29, 2020, the NAACP, representing the National Urban League, and the National Fair Housing Alliance, filed a civil rights class action lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Case No. 1:20-cv-03121), requesting injunctive and declaratory relief against the President of the United States, the U.S. Secretary of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor. Specifically, the lawsuit seeks for the Court to strike down the Order, declaring it unlawful and invalid, arguing it violates inter alia the First Amendment protection of free speech and the Fifth Amendment equal protection clause.

The lawsuit is in response to an Order, entitled “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping,” issued on September 22, 2020, prohibiting federal government contractors (“Contractors”), as well as federal agencies and the military, from using a workplace training program that “inculcates in [their] employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating.” As we indicated in our Act Now Advisory, Executive Order Prohibits Inclusion of “Divisive” Concepts in Workplace Training, the Order prohibits those Contractors entering into new contracts, beginning November 21, 2020, from incorporating certain “divisive” concepts, set forth in the Order, such as systemic racism, white privilege, male privilege, and the idea that the United States is a racist country, into diversity and awareness training programs. The Order also directs all federal agencies to review their respective grant programs and identify programs which may require recipients to certify that federal funds will not be used to promote the concepts prohibited by the Order.

The NAACP stated, in support of the lawsuit,

Despite the urgent need to address and remedy systemic discrimination and counter the harms stemming from implicit biases, EO 13950 unconstitutionally forces Plaintiffs to choose between censoring speech on these important issues or forfeiting any opportunity to enter into a federal contract for the provision of goods or services or to receive federal funds as a grant recipient. The infringement of Plaintiffs’ private speech on these matters of public concern and public welfare is deeply troubling… This censorship of Plaintiffs’ speech by the federal government is anathema to a free democracy.

The NAACP argues that (i) Plaintiffs have been and will be irreparably harmed by the President’s ultra vires Order issued in violation of the First Amendment and have no adequate remedy at law; (ii) the Order is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause; and (iii) the stated justifications and policy rationales for the Order are pre-textual and meant to obfuscate its impermissible discriminatory purpose. For relief, the NAACP requests that the Court order a declaration that the Order is unlawful and invalid, and issue a permanent injunction enjoining the President of the United States, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Labor from implementing or enforcing any part of the Order.

While the NAACP seeks immediate relief, federal government contractors will need to take a wait-and-see approach as the litigation plays out, with many variables at play, including potential appeals to the United State Supreme Court, and the outcome of the presidential election.

©2023 Epstein Becker & Green, P.C. All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume X, Number 308

About this Author

Susan Gross Sholinsky, Labor Employment Attorney, Epstein Becker Green Law Firm
Member of the Firm

SUSAN GROSS SHOLINSKY is a Member of the Firm in the Labor and Employment practice, in the New York office of Epstein Becker Green. She counsels clients on a variety of matters, in a practical and straightforward manner, with an eye toward reducing the possibility of employment-related claims. In 2013, Ms. Sholinsky was named to theNew York Metro Rising Stars list in the area of Employment & Labor.

Robert J. O’Hara Labor and employment lawyer Epstein Becker
Member of the Firm

ROBERT J. O’HARA* is a Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the New York office of Epstein Becker Green. His practice focuses on employment law counseling and litigation as well as human resources counseling, compliance, and training.

Mr. O’Hara’s experience includes:

  • Conducting and overseeing workplace investigations (including sexual harassment, bribery, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, product quality, supply chain theft, and malfeasance of every kind), executive terminations, and...
Peter M. Stein, Epstein Becker Green, National Employer Representation,

PETER M. STEIN is a Member of the Firm in the Labor and Employment practice of Epstein Becker Green. Based in the firm's Stamford office, where he serves as the Managing Shareholder, he represents both national and regional employers in all aspects of labor and employment law.

Dean R. Singewald II, Epstein Becker, EEO Compliance Lawyer, Labor Attorney

DEAN R. SINGEWALD II is an Associate in the Labor and Employment and Litigation practices in the Stamford office of Epstein Becker Green. He represents employers, taking a practical and cost-efficient, results-driven approach, in all facets of employment law, from hire to separation, including affirmative action and EEO compliance, representation before the OFCCP, and litigation.

Kathleen M. Williams Healthcare Attorney Epstein Becker Green

Kathleen M. Williams is a Member of the Firm in the Health Care & Life Sciences and Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practices, in the Washington, DC, office of Epstein Becker Green. She represents clients with regard to employment matters, including advice and counsel, compliance, investigations, and litigation.

Ms. Williams’s experience includes:

  • Advising clients on and litigating employment, discrimination, harassment, disabilities, non-compete, wage and hour, and general litigation matters in...