Judge halts enforcement of diversity training crackdown on contractors

A nationwide injunction blocks sections of the order that apply to contractors and grant recipients, including a hotline created for employees to report training materials.

gavel shutterstock ID: 565403683 by sebra

A federal judge in a California district court blocked parts of President Donald Trump's executive order on diversity and inclusion training that apply to federal contractors and grant recipients.

The September executive order targeted "divisive concepts" that it labelled as "offensive and anti-American" in workforce diversity and inclusion trainings provided to federal employees, military service members, federal contractors and grant recipients. It's garnered backlash from civil rights groups, business and tech groups while creating a chilling effect in diversity training both in and out of government.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman wrote in her Dec. 22 decision that the government's argument that the order was in the public interest was a "gross mischaracterization" of the diversity training plaintiffs offered and "an insult to their work of addressing discrimination and injustice towards historically underserved communities."

The plaintiffs of the lawsuit, filed at the beginning of November, are nonprofits and consultants that serve people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and people living with HIV.

Under the terms of the order and related guidance, contractors and grant recipients had faced suspension, debarment and federal grants being withheld if they failed to comply.

The plaintiffs argued the order violated their free speech rights by requiring them to censor or cease trainings on the threat of debarment from contracting or not receiving federal grants. They also challenged the constitutionality of the executive order on the grounds of due process, arguing that it was too vague to outline what speech is outlawed.

In her injunction, Freeman stated that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in overturning the executive order on First Amendment grounds.

The preliminary injunction also blocked a phone and email "hotline" that was created for people to report training materials to the Labor Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. It had been the subject of concerns in the past because it didn't distinguish between reports of violations from training participants and the actual training curriculum in question.

A call to the hotline revealed that the order is being put into effect. An outgoing message states in part, "In compliance with a December 22, 2020 court order, OFCCP is no longer accepting complaints on this hotline."

This isn't the only lawsuit the executive order has faced. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance also have requested an injunction to block the order in a lawsuit filed in October. On Dec. 29, the Labor Department filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.