Elections
A photo posted on Barack Obama A photo posted on Barack Obama's Tumblr page shows the campaign's Chicago staff  

Obama campaign office staff lacks racial diversity, may violate civil rights law

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

Civil rights lawyers told The Daily Caller that President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign managers may have violated employment law by hiring an overwhelmingly white office staff for his campaign headquarters in Chicago.

That skewed workforce is starkly visible in an April photo released by Obama’s Chicago office, which shows roughly 100 of the office’s staff.

Only two of the people in the photo, far in the back, are clearly African-American, far below their 13 percent of the national population, and their 33-percent representation in Chicago.

“Were I the general counsel of an employer in Chicago with the workforce in the picture … I would be concerned,” said Charles Shanor, a law professor at Emory University and the former general counsel at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

“The workforce is overwhelmingly made up of young white males [and is] a demographic profile that could raise red flags under both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act,” he told TheDC.

If asked by managers, “‘Do we run a risk of legal liability?’ I would say ‘Sure,’” if a company’s picture showed only two African-Americans in a staff of 100, said Northeastern University’s Roger Abrams, a left-of-center law professor and former dean of the Rutgers School of Law.

Skewed hiring happens, Abrams told TheDC, because “people are simply not aware of what they’re doing … [or that] the racism, the sexism, the discrimination on the basis of other grounds, are just a way of life.”

“An underrepresentation of a particular group is a red flag … but underrepresentation by itself is not proof of a violation,” said Michael J. Goldberg, a law professor and former Acting Dean at Widener University.

This is not the first time Obama’s campaigns have bumped up against the law. In 2008, his campaign managers choose to accept donations from unidentified donors, and then returned some of those funds after investigations by online media outlets.

The Obama campaign did not respond to TheDC’s repeated emails about its hiring decision, even though the campaign’s hiring pattern clashes with Obama’s campaign-trail rhetoric. “We have to move forward, to the future we imagined in 2008, where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules,” he declared May 5 at his kick-off campaign speech to supporters in Ohio.

Politico reported on April 18 that Stefanie Brown, who heads the campaign’s outreach to African-American voters, sent an urgent memo asking for help in “staffing up in states around the country, and I need your help to find qualified, African American candidates.”

The plea may be a response to the campaign’s pallor problem, which could hurt its standing with its vital bloc of African-American voters.

The image of Obama’s nearly all-white campaign staff “is not a surprise to me, because if you look at that [senior campaign] team you can’t see any diverse people,” an African-American diversity consultant told TheDC.

“I hope it gets fixed,” the consultant said, adding, “you’d expect something better from him.”

Officials with the Obama re-election campaign worry that turnout among African-American voters may fall below their participation level in 2008, partly because African-Americans have seen little recovery from the collapse of the 1994-2008 real estate bubble.

Since that collapse, the median wealth of African-American families has been halved, according to the Pew Research Center. And less than half of black men between 18 and 30 have full-time jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Politically, the African-American community is being eclipsed by the Hispanic community, whose swing voters both the Democratic Party and the GOP are wooing.

But the image of Obama’s nearly all-white office staff is also a red flag for lawsuits claiming “disparate impact” violations, said lawyers.

Disparate impact law allows penalties against employers whose apparently color-blind practices unintentionally produce varying outcomes for women, African-Americans or Hispanics.