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Guest Contributor
Paul J. Beard

Paul J. Beard II is an attorney with PLF and one of a team of lawyers who represented Allen Harman. This commentary appeared in the July 23 issue of San Francisco Business Times.

SFO ‘Diversity Plan’ Unsafe

...and Unfair—at Any Altitude...

[Paul J. Beard] 8/6/04

In a victory for racial equality, a San Mateo jury early this month held the City and County of San Francisco liable in damages for the denial of a white airport employee’s promotion on the basis of his race.

The jury found that the city had implemented an illegal policy (embodied in its 1998-1999 Diversity Staffing Plan for the Airport) to discriminate against white males in employment and promotion. It also found that the policy was the moving force behind the race-based decision to deny Allen Harman a promotion to the position of airfield operations supervisor in the name of diversity. The jury decided that Harman’s equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution had been violated and awarded him damages for lost promotional opportunities and emotional distress.

Unabashedly Racist
A jury verdict in favor of a white man alleging reverse discrimination is unusual enough. But the underlying facts of the lawsuit truly set it apart.

First, few municipalities are so unabashedly racist in their written policies as the city was in this case. The 1998-1999 Diversity Staffing Plan targeted six “underutilized” minority groups to the exclusion of whites, explicitly requiring hiring managers to look at job applicants’ race when making hiring and promotion decisions.

The plan sought to meet quantitative objectives in hiring and promoting underutilized minorities to ensure that the airport labor force represented the surrounding city and Bay Area labor pools. All of this, despite no evidence whatsoever of prior discrimination. In other words, the plan demanded diversity for diversity’s sake -- a purpose that the law does not recognize.

Second, the city’s obsession with race as called for in the plan infected what is the most sensitive area of the airport’s operations: safety.

As an airfield safety officer applying to be a supervisor, Harman was part of the team that ensures that Federal Aviation Agency rules and regulations are enforced and that airport passengers and employees are adequately protected from the dangers of air crashes and terrorism. This department — perhaps more than any other — would presumably demand a strict merit-based system of selecting candidates based on qualifications.

Further, at the time of Harman’s denial of promotion, the safety department was rapidly expanding, and the need to quickly fill safety positions became dire. Yet the hiring and promotional process was stalled because the city was concerned about the racial makeup of qualified applicants.

As one supervisor in the department put it, the qualified candidates were “too white for City Hall.”

Not surprisingly, a minority individual filled the position that was promised to Harman. The goal of diversity had, in the eyes of the city, been advanced. In the meantime, however, positions had been left unfilled in the most safety-sensitive department of the airport.

Diversity Above Security
With its racial quotas and directives, the plan was constitutionally and morally corrupt. But the plan was far worse than that, because it forced city officials to place diversity above airport security in its hiring and promotional practices.

Racism for diversity’s sake is never acceptable. The jury in Harman’s case understood that. But in this post-9/11 world, the principle of equality for all is not simply a question of fairness, but of safety as well. CRO

Paul J. Beard II is an attorney with PLF and one of a team of lawyers who represented Allen Harman. This commentary appeared in the July 23 issue of San Francisco Business Times.





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