Race in Hiring and Firing Decisions

I am not one of the subset of conservatives who denies that there are still race problems in the US. I disagree with affirmative action in most cases because the small plus factors which are argued for often become much larger in practice, and because I think such programs can actually cause or deepen racial resentment and suspicion.  Even so, such effects tend to be subtle and therefore difficult to prove. That is not the case in the recent goings-on at the District Attorney’s office in New Orleans:

Eight days after taking office in 2003, Jordan fired 56 Connick holdovers - all were non-lawyers, such as investigators, clerks and administrative employees, and all but three were white. Over the next six months, Jordan hired 69 people, 64 of them black. Among the non-lawyers, the number of blacks nearly tripled, while the number of whites in the office declined by about two-thirds. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a preliminary determination, found evidence of racial bias.

Veterans with years of experience in law enforcement were replaced by younger blacks, some of whom had never done police work.

One white man fired by Jordan testified that he was one of the few fingerprint and ballistics experts in the district attorney's office. The resume of the man who replaced him showed he had little experience other than being a lifeguard and doing some office work at a law firm.

Arthur Perrot, a fired white investigator, had a perfect 24-of-24 score when interviewed by Jordan's transition team, but was fired, while a black investigator who scored 16 out of 24 was retained.

One of the interesting things about this case is that it represents the ascendence of the diversity justification for even extreme examples of racial decision-making:
Jordan has said that he had the right to choose his staff and that the firings were done for reasons of racial balance.

"This is not discrimination; this is a political effort to create diversity," his lawyer, Philip Schuler, told the jury of eight whites and two blacks. Schuler noted that in New Orleans the workforce is overwhelmingly black - nearly 70 percent - and that Jordan merely wanted "a work force more reflective of the community."

In this formulation, political efforts to create diversity are not even couched as justified discrimination--they are instead transformed into allegedly non-discriminatory diversity efforts. The disturbing thing about this case is that it isn't ridiculously illogical in view of the current social understanding on diversity projects.  If when hiring you can justify a small plus based on race, which in practice can be permitted to be a large plus so long as you are protecting diversity you are in fact costing one person a job in favor of another based on race.  Firing the low-level white and Hispanic people (he kept the white lawyers) to make room for black people is just another form of it.  If that step is not allowable, we are going to have to make clear why it is not allowable in the face of our current justifications.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at March 10, 2005 10:22 AM