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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott calls diversity efforts ‘illegal,’ tells state agencies to stop

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(NEW YORK) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has notified state agencies that the use of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in hiring is illegal, according to a memo obtained by ABC News.


The memo, sent on Sunday by Abbott’s chief of staff, Gardner Pate, said diversity, equity and inclusion programs in hiring violate the law because they “expressly favor some demographic groups to the detriment of others.”

The funding of such programs is also illegal, the memo said. It did not specify which groups were harmed.

Renae Eze, a spokesperson for Gov. Abbott’s office, said in a statement: “The letter from the Governor’s chief of staff is a reminder that state agencies and public universities must follow federal and state law in their hiring practices. Both federal and state law make equity quotas illegal.”

“The issue is not diversity—the issue is that equity is not equality. Here in Texas, we give people a chance to advance based on talent and merit,” Eze added.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.

Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, is a set of policies that foster representation and a sense of belonging for groups that have historically faced discrimination.

Some institutions use the framework in hiring to ensure they foster a diverse applicant pool and undertake an equitable process for internal employment decisions, such as promotions.

Contrary to their stated goal, DEI programs worsen discrimination in hiring instead of alleviating it, Pate said in the memo.

“Indeed, 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,” he said.

The Texas Tribune was the first to report on the memo.

Sharona Hoffman, a professor of law at Case Western University who studies employment discrimination, said the memo’s characterization of DEI policies as illegal is “inaccurate.”

“It’s incorrect to say that any kind of diversity, equity and inclusion activity is unlawful,” Hoffman said, noting for instance that employers can freely recruit workers at places that might attract minority candidates, such as historically Black colleges and universities.

The memo from Abbott’s office came days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said he plans to bar state universities from funding diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. DEI serves as “an ideological filter,” DeSantis said.

Some prominent Republican officials have sharply criticized programs that aim to acknowledge or redress systemic discrimination, such as DEI in workplaces or critical race theory in schools.

In 2021, Abbott signed into law a measure that aims to ban the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 public school classrooms.

Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned critical race theory. In September 2020, he ordered federal agencies to stop funding workplace training programs on systemic racism.

President Joe Biden reversed the move shortly after taking office, issuing an executive order in June 2021 that promoted diversity, equity and inclusion in federal agencies.

Abbott’s memo is motivated by “politics,” Hoffman said.

“There are people who are concerned that the United States won’t be a majority white country anymore and minorities are getting too many opportunities,” she added. “This kind of a memo would be very appealing to people with those beliefs.”

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