Diversity Efforts Challenged

Some white men push back against programs for hiring women and people of color

Two high-profile legal cases in which white men have accused employers of discrimination or retaliation have put a spotlight on U.S. companies' efforts to make career advancement more accessible to women and people of color.
 A recruiter is accusing YouTube of retaliating against him after he complained that the video site discriminated against white and Asian male applicants in favor of hiring blacks, Hispanics and women.
 The case comes on the heels of a lawsuit against Google, in which James Damore has accused the company of firing him for espousing conservative political views that oppose the company's diversity related hiring practices.
 Alphabet Inc., parent company of Google and You- Tube, said it would defend itself in both cases in an area that has been heavily litigated. Discrimination is generally difficult to prove, and so-called reverse-discrimination lawsuits must pass an even higher bar, employment lawyers say.
 “You can have a goal, even a numerical goal over a time period, to increase the number of women or people of color,” said Dennis Parker, director of the racial justice program at the American Civil Liberties Union. “That's different than saying, ‘We're not going to hire any more white men.' ”
 The cases could have broader implications for Silicon Valley companies and their recruiting methods as the tech industry faces continued scrutiny for a lack of diversity. While discrimination against any sex or race is forbidden by federal statute, courts have long allowed companies to put in place programs meant to correct imbalances, such as targeted outreach and training courses designed for people from underrepresented groups.
 One of the last major cases alleging discrimination against white men was decided in 2009 when the Supreme Court sided with white firefighters who said the New Haven, Conn., fire department discriminated against them by invalidating the results of a test used to determine promotions. Fearing the test would be called discriminatory, the fire department threw out the results and used other measures to make promotions when black firefighters scored poorly.
 Courts still allow companies to deploy programs designed to open up opportunities to a broader segment of the workforce. In such cases, judges look closely at details.
 Arne Wilberg, the plaintiff in the suit against YouTube, is a white recruiter who worked at Google for nine years, including four years at You- Tube. He alleges that the video site told recruiters to cancel interviews with applicants who weren't female, black or Hispanic after setting quotas for hiring minorities.
 “We have a clear policy to hire candidates based on their merit, not their identity,” a Google spokeswoman said in response to the suit.
 “At the same time, we unapologetically try to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for open roles.”
 Google fired Mr. Damore in August after he circulated a memo that criticized Google's diversity efforts and suggested women were less qualified than men for some technology jobs. Mr. Damore and a co-worker sued, accusing Google of being a hostile workplace for employees with conservative views and alleging it unfairly favors women and certain minorities when hiring and promoting.
 Mr. Damore also filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board but withdrew it in February after an NLRB lawyer advised the board that parts of his memo were “so harmful, discriminatory, and disruptive” that it wasn't protected workplace speech.
 Mr. Damore's attorney,  Harmeet Dhillon, said that since the lawsuit was filed, she has been contacted by “countless current and former Google employees as well as employees of other tech companies making similar allegations.”
 Many U.S. employers are under pressure to diversify their payrolls and, by extension, tackle issues like the gender wage gap, sexual harassment and economic inequality.
 For example, activist shareholder Arjuna Capital has led campaigns to compel firms including Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc. to identify and fix pay disparities between male and female workers.
 The tech sector has come under scrutiny ever since big firms began disclosing data about the makeup of their workforces, said Jon Bischke, chief executive of Entelo, a recruiting software firm that helps companies hire technical talent. “Their numbers effectively have to go up every year,” he said. “If their numbers went backward, that would be a public-relations nightmare.”


Alphabet's YouTube and Google are each facing litigation related to their hiring practices.


BY LAUREN WEBER

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