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California teacher sues union, claims BIPOC-only board seat is racial discrimination

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(The Center Square) – A California teacher filed a federal lawsuit against his local teachers’ union for creating a “BIPOC At-Large” seat on its executive board that would require him to identify as a specified minority group to run for.

The Elk Grove Education Association, a teachers’ union, created a “BIPOC At-Large” seat in 2023 with a nomination form requiring self-identification as black, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Latino, Asian, Arab, or Middle Eastern.

Sacramento teacher Isaac Newman, who has been a union member for a decade, sought to run for the seat but, as a white individual, could not in good conscience claim identification with one of the aforementioned groups. He claims that being barred from running for the position runs afoul of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans for labor organizations to “discriminate against… any individual because of his race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which bans discrimination “against any person because of… race… in the election of officers of the labor organization.”

“Race-based discrimination is both immoral and illegal, yet my union has decided to segregate its ranks by imposing a racial litmus test as a requirement to run for this board seat,” said Newman, who teaches at Elk Grove Unified School District in suburban Sacramento. “Union officials apparently believe that the best solution to America’s shameful history of discrimination is more discrimination. I believe that their actions are an illegal and a divisive distraction from our educational mission.”

California’s two laws setting racial, ethnic, and sexual identity quotas, and female quotas for corporate boards were found illegal for violating the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protections clause.

The Newman case differs in that the question is whether or not a private organization that does not directly receive public funds can be held to the same standard; the cases against California’s diversity quotas on public boards hinged on the fact that public funds would be used to enforce said quotas. A similar ruling in 2023 against the use of racial quotas in admissions also hinged on the use of government funding to advance discriminatory practices.

Newman’s petition requests the court to remove the seat, ban segregated offices, or remove the race-based qualification. In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Jaycees, a leadership training organization, could not exclude women from being members. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Boy Scouts could exclude a gay scout leader. Private organizations that do not receive government funding, such as labor organizations, are held to different standards than those that do; A ruling in favor of Newman could significantly expand the coverage of anti-discrimination laws.