Affirmative Action in District Court: SFAA v. Harvard

Affirmative Action in the educational admissions process is in the spotlight again. On October 15th, arguments began in the case of Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. SFAA, an organization known for its desire to eliminate the use of race in college admissions, sued Harvard and claimed that the School engages in race balancing, in which it deliberately keeps race proportions similar year after year despite changes in applicant pool demographics. SFAA also recruited the plaintiff in a case you may remember - the 2016 Supreme Court case, Fisher v. University of Texas.

The SFAA is representing a group of Asian-American applicants who believe that Harvard discriminated against them in its quest to ensure a balanced class and that they were held to different standards from other applicants. Harvard opposes this idea and stresses that it uses a holistic review process that considers many factors during the selection process.

This case differs relative to other high profile affirmative action cases, such as Fisher v. The University of Texas at Austin. In those instances, white plaintiffs often had lower test and achievement scores compared to the current minority group represented by SFFA. Ultimately, this matter could reach the Supreme Court and present the justices with another opportunity to address affirmative action. Should this occur, those supporting the use of race in college admissions would likely face a more conservative court compared to the one that evaluated Fisher v. Texas.

What does this mean for Federal contractors and subcontractors? Well, not much immediately. But potentially a lot. There is no direct impact on the Federal regulations guiding affirmative action requirements for employment activity carried out by Federal contractors and subcontractors, but it could foreshadow challenges to come from employment groups with missions similar to SFAA.

By Amanda Shapiro, Associate Principal Consultant, and Cliff Haimann, Senior Consultant, at DCI Consulting Group

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