A collective bargaining agreement between teachers and a school district in Minnesota has made waves inside and outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The part of the agreement receiving the most scrutiny is the one establishing affirmative action in layoffs. While the Minnesota agreement will affect no New Jersey workers, it still makes for a useful opportunity to remind New Jersey workers that the law has limits on what employers can do in efforts to remediate historical and/or systemic racism. Some programs, however well intended, may cross the line into the realm of illegal race discrimination, giving those harmed the opportunity, with the aid of a skilled New Jersey race discrimination lawyer, the opportunity to pursue – and win – a civil lawsuit.
The Minnesota agreement, which was between the Minneapolis Public Schools and the teachers’ union, said that teachers who were members of “underrepresented populations” were exempt from the general rule for layoffs, which was one of “last hired, first fired.” In other words, in the event of layoffs, the school district would potentially bypass a teacher of color with less seniority and instead select a white teacher with more seniority for that layoff.
Supporters of the policy hailed it as a necessary step to make up for past discrimination against people of color and the underrepresentation of communities of color among the schools’ faculties, helping schools’ faculties to look would more closely like the students they’re teaching. Opponents decried the rule as a blatant instance of race discrimination against white teachers.