Trump’s Department of Labour has opened an investigation into whether Microsoft violated U.S. federal law by promising to hire more Black and African American managers and leaders, ABC News reported on Wednesday.
Microsoft has faced criticism for years about a lack of diversity everywhere from its rank and file to the executive suites, as well as accounts of a racially hostile work environment. Corporate vice president and general counsel Dev Stahlkopf wrote in a blog post that the DOL investigation, run by its Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), “has focused on whether Microsoft’s commitment to double the number of Black and African American people managers, senior individual contributors and senior leaders in our U.S. workforce by 2025 could constitute unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, which would violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.” The DOL told Stahlkopf in a letter that the promise “appears to imply that employment action may be taken on the basis of race.”
Stahlkopf added in his statement that Microsoft’s promise to double the number of senior employees who are Black or African American is “emphatically” not a violation of labour law and the company has “every confidence that Microsoft’s diversity initiative complies fully with all U.S. employment laws.”
News of the DOL investigation follows a batshit, racist executive order from the Trump administration on Sept. 22 that threatened federal agencies and contractors with loss of funding and contract terminations if they did not immediately act to terminate diversity training programs it contends are part of a “malign ideology.” The terms are both sweeping and subjective, banning training that promotes the idea the U.S. is “fundamentally racist or sexist” or that any individual, on the basis of their sex or race, is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
The order itself came after a Sept. 4 White House memo that suggested agencies search their training programs for mentions of “critical race theory,” “white privilege,” “intersectionality,” “systemic racism,” “positionality,” “racial humility” and “unconscious bias.” Washington Post reported. That’s wording that could easily be interpreted to refer to programs like unconscious bias training, which is intended to make workers aware of any potential biases they may harbour to avoid acting on them in the workplace.
The DOL investigation is into suspected violations of Title VII, not the the executive order, but it’s part of a cohesive push to roll back anti-racist policies in U.S. workplaces by executive fiat. Bloomberg reported that on Sept. 28, the OFCCP announced it had created hotlines to report “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating” under the order.
Both the memo and the order have resulted in confusion across the government, according to the Post, despite efforts by federal officials to translate something that is widely suspected to have been inspired by Fox News segments into coherent policy.
For example, Park Service employees told the Post that racial sensitivity courses, training on how to ensure equal access to blind or deaf visitors, tribal consultation, and interrupting “inappropriate and offensive behaviour” at work were still prohibited as of Sept. 30. A number of colleges have halted diversity programs.
Microsoft said it would focus on hiring more Black and African American people to senior roles after its dismal 2019 diversity report showed just 4.5 per cent of its workforce are Black, as are less than three per cent of its senior roles, according to the Wall Street Journal. Former U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division official Samuel Bagenstos told Bloomberg that the DOL’s intervention “seems like a perversion of everything this agency is supposed to be about” and Microsoft’s pledge “is the kind of thing that, in prior administrations, the Department of Labour had been telling federal contractors they should be doing.”
“We are clear that the law prohibits us from discriminating on the basis of race,” Stahlkopf wrote in the blog post. “We also have affirmative obligations as a company that serves the federal government to continue to increase the diversity of our workforce, and we take those obligations very seriously. We have decades of experience and know full well how to appropriately create opportunities for people without taking away opportunities from others.”