Red Hat’s DEI program was discriminatory, lawsuit says

Dive Brief:

  • A former senior director at enterprise software company Red Hat said he was fired in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for being White and male after he spoke out against the company’s push to hire based on race and gender.
  • The plaintiff “felt that he was being targeted, marked, and labeled as an undesirable employee for voicing his opinions in opposition to Red Hat’s DEI policies,” attorneys for the plaintiff said in their complaint, filed May 8 in federal district court in Idaho.
  • The plaintiff was fired along with 21 other people, all of whom with one exception were White and male, after company leadership announced a goal to reach 30% female and 30% minority workers by 2028, according to the complaint.

Dive Insight:

America First filed the lawsuit on Wood’s behalf after first filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The group, headed by former Trump administration policy adviser Stephen Miller, has filed other lawsuits and dozens of complaints with EEOC over company DEI policies, saying they’re acts of discrimination justified in the name of ending discrimination.  

“Ironically, these policies … punish certain ethnicities in the name of diversity, and reward skin color over merit,” the Red Hat lawsuit says. 

The plaintiff said he was a highly regarded employee until he started speaking out against the company’s plan to pursue quota-based hiring. 

“He had never received a negative review, was highly lauded, had a stellar record, and was on a path to become one of the top executives at Red Hat,” the complaint says. 

The company had been championing its DEI focus since at least 2021, when it hired a chief executive officer of DEI, and made its commitment public as one of several companies to support Harvard and the University of North Carolina in their losing effort to protect affirmative action in college admission policies in the landmark 2022 Supreme Court case.

“Red Hat boasted of the company’s involvement in this effort to its employees, claiming that Red Hat was ‘proud to join this effort to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to continue to allow colleges to consider race, as one of many factors, in admissions so that colleges can produce a diverse pipeline of graduates,’” the complaint says.   

Avoid numerical goals

Employment law specialists have been saying since the SCOTUS ruling that, although the decision applies to universities and not corporate employment programs, companies can expect to see challenges to their DEI efforts and should be careful not to structure what they’re doing around goals that can be construed as quotas. 

“A program that tries to establish a fixed goal — a quota — for minority hiring or minority contracting is going to be much more vulnerable than a plan that doesn’t use numerical targets,” Samir Deger-Sen, a partner at Latham & Watkins, said in a webcast last year. 

Even if the program doesn’t contain a numerical target, it could still face a challenge if hiring decisions are made based on race, Deger-Sen said. 

“The court [in its college-admissions decision] made clear that even if you have a program that is not technically using race as a plus factor, in some explicit way, if it tries to do so in a way that is, in an implicit way, really focused on race and not in fact focusing on the individual contribution of the person, that could be subject to challenge,” he said. 

Red Hat didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.