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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Shakedown Lawsuits Live On
Despite Prop 64…
[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 12/7/04

The victory of Proposition 64 does not mean that shakedown lawsuits have disappeared. They continue to thrive, as a recent case involving Abercrombie & Fitch confirms.

The retailer will pay out $40 million, a hefty $10 million of it in attorney fees, as part of a settlement of three lawsuits charging that the company discriminates against women and minorities. Abercrombie & Fitch denies the charges and settled the suits to avoid a lengthy dispute. The settlement requires the company to institute "diversity" training for managers, hire more minorities in sales and management, and even to change its marketing.

In such cases, activist groups target a deep-pockets firm they believe violates the canons of political correctness. The lawyers troll for plaintiffs and charge that numerical conditions at the company prove discrimination. The underlying dogma is that every ethnic group must be employed according to its representation in the population. If such conditions don't exist, the cause is held to be discrimination, which must be remedied by government action.

The lawyers shop for a sympathetic judge and file suit. Such suits wield considerable leverage because the company must prove its innocence. The activist groups come away with millions in attorney fees, much more than any plaintiffs will ever receive.

Abercrombie & Fitch fell afoul of the politically correct with scantily clad models held to be offensive to women. Then they came out with a line of T-shirts with slogans such as "Wong Brothers Laundry Service – Two Wongs Can Make it White" and "Wok-N-Bowl – Let the Good Times Roll – Chinese Food and Bowling." The company apologized and pulled the shirts after complaints from student groups claiming to represent Asians. But this was enough to make the company a target for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought one of the suits. The federal judge in San Francisco who approved the settlement is Susan Illston, a liberal and feminist whose nomination was first put forward by Senator Barbara Boxer. Those who deal with such cases would do well to act in accord with California realities instead of politically correct dogma.

Strictly speaking, there are no minorities in California, something even Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante recognized. With no majority of "Anglos," "Whites," "Latinos," or any other misleading tag, the concept of a minority loses validity. Statistical disparities among groups are the rule, not the exception, because of such factors as personally differences, effort, and choice.

In 1996 Californians approved Proposition 209, which bars racial preferences in state employment, contracting, and education. The majority that voted for this measure is not likely to approve the concept of government-enforced quotas in the private sector. That is what "diversity" means, and what the action against Abercrombie & Fitch seeks to impose, while bagging millions in attorney fees.

Court imposed diversity training and mandates on marketing make it more costly to conduct business and create hostility in the workplace. The administrations in Washington and Sacramento should take affirmative action to stop politically correct shakedown suits. One solution would be a ballot measure extending Proposition 209 to the private sector and making the Golden State a quota-free zone. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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