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Federal judge blocks Trump order prohibiting workplace diversity and sensitivity trainings

Judge finds government's justification for banning the trainings was a "gross mischaracterization" of what they entail

Seminar – Photo: NeONBRAND, via Unsplash.

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration from implementing and enforcing an executive order prohibiting federal contractors and grantees from conducting workplace diversity trainings or engaging in grant-funded work that acknowledges the existence of structural racism, sexism, or anti-LGBTQ bias.

The lawsuit was filed in early November by a coalition of LGBTQ groups, as well as a business with federal contracts to provide such training to correctional staff and government agencies, who argue that the order, issued by President Trump on Sept. 22, violates their free speech rights and right to due process under the U.S. Constitution, disfavoring them based on their viewpoint and the content of their speech.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman, of the Northern District of California’s San Jose Division, issued the nationwide injunction a little more than a month after hearing oral arguments on Nov. 10. Freeman found that the government’s justification for barring diversity or anti-bias trainings was fueled by animus toward the content of the speech contained in those trainings.

The Trump administration had argued that diversity, sensitivity, and anti-bias trainings — and in particular discussions around the concepts of intersectionality, critical race theory, white privilege, systemic racism, or implicit or unconscious bias — were a form of “race and sex scapegoating” that is “divisive,” and should therefore not be paid for using taxpayer money. The administration had also argued that it should have a right to deny funding to contractors or grantees whose trainings touched on those topics. But Freeman found those arguments to be flawed.

“The Court agrees with Plaintiffs that the Government’s argument is a gross mischaracterization of the speech Plaintiffs want to express and an insult to their work of addressing discrimination and injustice towards historically underserved communities,” Freeman wrote in her opinion. “That this Government dislikes this speech is irrelevant to the analysis but permeates their briefing.”

See also: Federal judge tosses anti-transgender lawsuit challenging school district’s gender-affirming policies

Lawyers for the plaintiffs praised Freeman’s decision to issue the injunction, which will prevent the ban on diversity and anti-bias training from being enforced while the case plays out in the courts.

“This injunction could not come at a more crucial time,” Michael Adams, the CEO of SAGE: Service & Advocacy for GLBT Elders, said in a statement. “We have already had trainings cancelled because of the threat of this executive order, trainings that are integral to SAGE’s ability to do its work on behalf of LGBT older adults in a meaningful and impactful way that recognizes explicitly the impact of systemic racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT bias on our communities and the country writ large.”

“This injunction was critically important for our clients — organizations and individuals on the front line combatting COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, and the violence perpetrated against Black and Brown people by law enforcement,” Avatara Smiht-Carrington, a Tyron Garner Memorial Law Fellow at Lambda Legal. “Judge Freeman saw this ban for what it is: An effort to quash the truth and sweep under the rug an honest and long overdue reckoning with structural racism and sexism in our society.

“To effectively address racial disparities in our health care and legal systems, our clients have to train people on systemic racism, sexism, and anti-LGBT bias,” Smith-Carrington added. “This is a victory for truth, science, and for the principle of services focusing on the needs of the people being impacted instead of serving the agenda of the Trump Administration.”

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