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Judge deals blow to California law requiring diversity on boards

Two years ago, California enacted a law (AB 979) designed to make the boards of publicly held companies headquartered in the state more diverse. Once a bastion of white men, boards of directors have become somewhat more diverse than they used to be. However, overall, they by no means represent the diversity of our country – and certainly not of California.

The law required that these boards include at least one person who “self-identifies as Black, African American, Hispanic, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, or Alaska Native, or…gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender,” depending on the size of the board. The state had previously enacted a law that required at least one woman on every corporate board.

Conservative group contends violation of equal protection rights

Not surprisingly, these laws haven’t been welcomed by everyone. Judicial Watch, which is a conservative group, has challenged the laws in multiple legal actions, claiming that they are unconstitutional. The president of the group has called these requirements “slaps in the face to the core American value of equal protection under the law.”

Now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits. In his ruling, the judge said that “while remediation of discrimination can be a compelling interest, the state must define a specific arena in which the discrimination has occurred, such as a school district or a specific industry within a particular local jurisdiction.” He also noted, “Only in very particular cases should discrimination be remedied by more discrimination.”

Judicial Watch has two federal lawsuits pending. In them, they assert that the two laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

Does diversity on a corporate board help employees?

Does the diversity (or lack thereof) of a company’s board of directors affect the workforce? The data isn’t clear. A board of mostly wealthy, highly educated, successful people of different races, genders and sexual orientations may have a more similar mindset than one might believe. While it’s still more likely to provide unique voices in the boardroom than a homogenous group would, it’s no guarantee that a company won’t have a problem with discrimination and harassment.

If you’ve been the victim of any kind of illegal workplace practices, don’t hesitate to do what’s necessary to advocate for your rights. It may be wise to seek legal guidance.

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