Civil rights lawyers told The Daily Caller that President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign managers may have violated employment law by hiring an overwhelmingly white office staff for his campaign headquarters in Chicago.
That skewed workforce is starkly visible in an April photo released by Obama’s Chicago office, which shows roughly 100 of the office’s staff.
Only two of the people in the photo, far in the back, are clearly African-American, far below their 13 percent of the national population, and their 33-percent representation in Chicago.
“Were I the general counsel of an employer in Chicago with the workforce in the picture … I would be concerned,” said Charles Shanor, a law professor at Emory University and the former general counsel at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
“The workforce is overwhelmingly made up of young white males [and is] a demographic profile that could raise red flags under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” he told TheDC.
If asked by managers, “‘Do we run a risk of legal liability?’ I would say ‘Sure,’” if a company’s picture showed only two African-Americans in a staff of 100, said Northeastern University’s Roger Abrams, a left-of-center law professor and former dean of the Rutgers School of Law.
Skewed hiring happens, Abrams told TheDC, because “people are simply not aware of what they’re doing … [or that] the racism, the sexism, the discrimination on the basis of other grounds, are just a way of life.”
“An underrepresentation of a particular group is a red flag … but underrepresentation by itself is not proof of a violation,” said Michael J. Goldberg, a law professor and former Acting Dean at Widener University.
Politico reported on April 18 that Stefanie Brown, who heads the campaign’s outreach to African-American voters, sent an urgent memo asking for help in “staffing up in states around the country, and I need your help to find qualified, African American candidates.”
The plea may be a response to the campaign’s pallor problem, which could hurt its standing with its vital bloc of African-American voters.
The image of Obama’s nearly all-white campaign staff “is not a surprise to me, because if you look at that [senior campaign] team you can’t see any diverse people,” an African-American diversity consultant told TheDC.
But the image of Obama’s nearly all-white office staff is also a red flag for lawsuits claiming “disparate impact” violations, said lawyers.
Disparate impact law allows penalties against employers whose apparently color-blind practices unintentionally produce varying outcomes for women, African-Americans or Hispanics.
Disparate impact law is an extension of more traditional “disparate treatment” law, which bars employers from intentionally treating individuals differently because of their skin color, sex or age.
Obama is a strong supporter of disparate impact law.
His deputies in the Justice Department, the EEOC and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are also using it to regulate banks’ lending practices, schools’ discipline policies, and hiring practices by every employer with more than 15 employees.
If the Obama re-election campaign were to be sued, the photo shows that it would “have a strong burden to overcome,” Pacific Legal Foundation civil rights lawyer Joshua Thompson told TheDC.
And there is little or no courtroom-ready evidence that Obama’s team cannot find enough skilled African-Americans to work on software, websites, press releases, videos, and the many back office tasks that can make or break a campaign.
The office currently employs roughly 140 people, according to an online count by the independent group Democracy in Action. The April photo appears to show the section of the office used by many of the roughly 80 staff who work on technology-related tasks, such as video production, software development and data analysis.
No employer could argue that there’s a lack of qualified African-American office staff in Chicago, said Sharon Jones, a diversity consultant in Chicago.
“We’re in a situation where we have huge unemployment … [and] for racial and ethnic minorities, unemployment rates are double” that of whites, said Jones. “There are a lot of minorities who could fill jobs … [and] there are people who could move [so] I don’t think there is a lack of human capital.”
The campaign’s staff does include several African-Americans, and some Hispanics.
For example, the campaign’s website features Loren Reedy, a receptionist, and Sheena Patton, the human resources director.
His upper-level political team also includes several senior African-American advisers. They include Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, the national youth director for the Obama campaign; Stephanie Brown, national director for the African-American vote; and Michael Blake, the deputy director of the campaign’s turnout operation.
“They’ve got [African-American] people there,” said Jamal Simmons, a D.C.-based political consultant. But “they could just do better.”