Sally Goldenberg, Politico, August 4, 2022
Eric Adams is building his own Facebook.
The New York mayor has instructed city agencies to present him with photographs of potential hires as City Hall reviews candidates for jobs ranging from assistant commissioner to departmental press secretary.
The move — which aides say will help the mayor recognize his employees in a workforce of some 330,000, and several city officials contend is entirely a diversity push — comes as Adams’ team struggles to fill an unusually high number of vacancies.
Of nine current and past officials interviewed for this story, most voiced concern that the practice is already leading to staffing decisions based more on race and ethnicity than merit, even if they said they support a diversified workforce. And nearly all of them said it has added another obstacle to an already slow hiring process.
The new protocol, described by officials across several agencies, is widely viewed as a measure to diversify the city’s workforce — a priority for the new mayor, whose slate of City Hall deputies predominantly comprises women and people of color.
“There’s no other way to interpret it,” said a high-ranking city official, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about an internal policy.
The person recalled receiving the instructions verbally, and being told by someone who works in the mayor’s office of appointments that Adams wanted agencies to hire people who “reflect the constituencies we serve.”
“Everyone knew what it was. There was no question. It was the first thing everybody said: ‘We’re going to start counting complexions now,’” one recently-departed City Hall employee said about the practice.
Others say it has slowed the hiring process at a time of increased job vacancies — 8 percent of municipal jobs were unfilled as of April, according to data from the Citizens Budget Commission. And some city staffers questioned whether it is appropriate to make hiring decisions based on demographics.
“The whole hiring process this City Hall set up is difficult enough, and the photo requirement just takes it from hard to bizarre and uncomfortable,” another high-ranking agency official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A New York City-based employment attorney said no law prohibits hiring decisions based upon race and ethnicity if it furthers a goal of diversifying a workforce.
“If a company called me and said, ‘Hey listen we really want to increase the diversity at our company, especially at senior levels, do you think it would help us if we used photos in order to increase it,’ I don’t see how that would be a problem if it actually helped,” lawyer Jeanne Christensen, a partner at Wigdor Law LLP, said in an interview. “They’re entitled to take steps to try to fulfill that diversity goal, providing that in doing that they’re not running afoul of the existing law.”
Her one note of caution: Job candidates should not be required to present photographs, though there is nothing legally barring officials from searching for headshots online. “I would say you better be sure you have their permission and they’re doing this voluntarily,” she said.
In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission addresses this matter, noting on its website: “Employers should not ask for a photograph of an applicant. If needed for identification purposes, a photograph may be obtained after an offer of employment is made and accepted.”