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Over 8,000 Starbucks locations nationwide closed May 29 to counsel approximately 175,000 employees about how to avoid their “implicit bias… [to] ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), at the request of the Project 21 black leadership network, are considering whether to investigate if such training is actually a violation of Starbucks employees’ civil rights.

Last month, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson mandated company-wide “racial bias training” in all U.S. establishments after the high-profile arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia store for refusing to leave or purchase something. Shortly after Johnson’s announcement, Project 21 sent letters to Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division John M. Gore at the U.S. Department of Justice and Acting Chairman Victoria Lipnic of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission questioning the “troubling” implications of “workplace practices focusing on ‘implicit’ or ‘unconscious’ bias.” In particular, Project 21 asked if such behavior violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion.

“Workplace discrimination dressed up as tolerance is still illegal,” said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper, a former constitutional law professor and senior counsel to congressional leaders who signed the letter. “All Americans are protected regardless of race or gender, and the Feds need to make that clear before this troublesome trend spreads.” 

Project 21’s letter noted:

Employers are increasingly adopting so-called “implicit bias” training, which targets employees by race or gender. Not only are the tests associated with unconscious bias well short of meeting scientific standards, but – because they purport to aid employers in targeting employees primarily based on their race or ethnicity and/or their gender – they potentially allow employees to be assessed, disciplined or promoted on the basis of race or gender activity which Title VII specifically bars. Whether based on good intentions or not, an employer’s plan to hire, promote or advance employees who are minority and/or female using implicit bias as a motive disadvantages non-minority and male employees.

The letter further stated that Project 21 “believe[s] that this employment technique is a violation” of civil rights law, and that the federal government has cause to investigate if “implicit bias” programs conflict with Title VII protections.

Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.

Founded in 1982, the National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from some 60,000 individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations.