Image shows variety of different classes in the background with gavel pounding in the front. Conveys effects of Affirmative Action being repealed on workplace diversity.

Affirmative Action Repealed: What This Means for Workplace Diversity

On June 29, 2023, in Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard, the United States Supreme Court repealed “Affirmative Action” in education, which was in place for over fifty years. This modification likely will change workplace diversity as well and could even result in harsh ramifications.

At Gardner Employment Law, we always stay up to date with the world’s ever-changing legal system and supreme court decisions. If you want to learn more about how this change in affirmative action has altered workplace diversity, contact us today.

What is Affirmative Action?

Affirmative action is a policy that aims to address historical disparities and promote equal opportunities for underrepresented groups. Generally, it guards against discrimination based on race, skin color, gender, age, religion, national origin, or disability (called “protected classes”) by positively reviewing the group in question to assure that these protected classes are not disparately represented.  Read more about the legal definition of “discrimination” on our Service page entitle “Discrimination.”

The policy applied in affirmative action seeks to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace through priority-based approaches considering protected classes in the selection process. Although controversial, affirmative action aims to combat systemic discrimination, promote group cohesion, and ultimately reduce disparities in employment opportunities.

Why is Workplace Diversity Important?

Diversity is important so that we maintain an open mind about subjects important to everyday values at work.   The word “diversity” means varied or different. It does not mean race.  As explained on the website of Price Waterhouse Coopers, diversity in the workplace “gives every person an equitable opportunity to grow and to thrive as part of our community of solvers.”  Workplace diversity continues to hold immense value, both strategically and legally. Neglecting diversity can expose executives to potential legal issues and sizable employee lawsuits.

Even after the Supreme Court’s opinion, organizations are still required to implement proactive strategies to guarantee workplace diversity. A diverse workforce unifies individuals with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and life experiences, resulting in a plethora of ideas and perspectives. This diversity of thinking drives innovation, creativity, and the ability to solve problems, allowing organizations to adjust to evolving market trends and gain a competitive advantage.  If the  persons in an organization all think the same, possess the same knowledge, the organization will never grow and expand.

Workplace diversity is not only a strategic factor but also carries serious legal ramifications. Under laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), an employer is forbidden to discriminate based on characteristics protected by law, the protected classes listed above.  Executives in charge who neglect to prioritize diversity may encounter legal repercussions, including expensive lawsuits, harm to their organization’s reputation, and the departure of skilled employees. Courts increasingly acknowledge the importance of workplace diversity and hold organizations responsible for cultivating inclusive environments that offer equal opportunities to everyone.

Besides legal considerations, diverse organizations are better equipped to understand and cater to various customer bases. They can offer unique perspectives and solutions, improving customer satisfaction and loyalty. By embracing workplace diversity, executives and their organizations enhance their ability to connect with customers and drive sustainable growth.

Workplace diversity remains significant even without formal “Affirmative Action” policies which the Supreme Court addressed. Organizations must actively pursue diversity to reap strategic advantages such as innovation and adaptability. Executives must acknowledge the legal ramifications of neglecting diversity and ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws. Embracing diversity in the workplace not only promotes fairness and inclusiveness but also positions organizations for long-term success in an increasingly diverse and globalized world.

Legal Implications of Workplace Diversity

Navigating workplace diversity’s legal and ethical aspects is crucial for organizations committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable environment. Understanding the key components can help executives ensure compliance and create a supportive workplace for all employees.

Although maintaining a diverse and legally compliant workplace seems simple, many large and fundamental corporations such as Texaco, Publix, and Coca-Cola have faced legal issues resulting from workplace discrimination. Notably, one of the most respected financial institutions in the world found itself in the middle of a discrimination lawsuit that resulted in a settlement of over 50 million dollars.

Morgan Stanley, a well-known financial organization, became entangled in a substantial discrimination lawsuit worth an astonishing $54 million. The lawsuit claimed that the company had participated in systematic prejudice and bias towards its female financial advisors, leading to discrepancies in salary, promotions, and chances for career growth. This widely publicized case clearly indicated the legal implications and harm to reputation that businesses may encounter if they neglect to prioritize diversity in the workplace and guarantee equitable treatment for their staff members.

The legal case against Morgan Stanley emphasized companies’ need to establish inclusive workplaces that appreciate and advance diversity. It highlighted the significance of adopting strong measures and strategies to prevent bias and guarantee equal chances for every employee. Aside from the financial consequences, these types of lawsuits can undermine employee motivation, harm the company’s reputation, and impede its capacity to attract and retain exceptional employees.

The Morgan Stanley case highlights the importance of prioritizing diversity in the workplace. This is not only a moral obligation but also a legal requirement that organizations must prioritize to prevent expensive legal disputes and safeguard their reputation.

Alternative Strategies after the Harvard Opinion

Alternative strategies exist for organizations to foster inclusion and equal opportunities, in addition to the formal “Affirmative Action” formula struck down in the university context by the SCOTUS. These strategies prioritize merit and qualifications when building a diverse workforce, while also actively addressing systemic barriers that hinder diversity.

  • Implement robust diversity and inclusion programs: Establish initiatives such as employee resource groups, mentorship programs, and diversity training to foster an inclusive work environment that embraces differences and encourages collaboration.


  • Unconscious bias training: Implementing unconscious bias training can enhance employees’ understanding of implicit biases that may influence decision-making. This training empowers individuals to make impartial and fair judgments based solely on merit. By encouraging employees to question their own biases, they can contribute to a more equitable assessment of talent during hiring and promotion procedures.


  • Implement mentorship and sponsorship initiatives: Match skilled individuals from marginalized backgrounds with seasoned professionals who can offer support and representation. These initiatives bridge the gap in opportunities and empower individuals from diverse backgrounds to progress within the company, fostering diversity across all levels.


  • Foster inclusive leadership: Cultivate a leadership team that values and champions diversity, setting the tone from the top. Inclusive leaders prioritize diversity and inclusion as strategic imperatives, driving the adoption of inclusive practices throughout the organization.

Organizations can cultivate a workforce that is both inclusive and diverse by employing these alternative tactics. Although affirmative action has played a crucial part in encouraging diversity in colleges and universities, these methods listed above concentrate on selecting employees based on merit, tackling unconscious biases, and establishing an inclusive atmosphere. By embracing these strategies, organizations can create a fairer workplace that leverages the unique skills and viewpoints of diverse individuals.

Contact a Workplace Diversity Expert

Knowing your legal obligations and familiarizing yourself with the applicable laws and regulations related to workplace diversity, such as anti-discrimination laws and other EEOC regulations is vital in the post “Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard” world.  The SCOTUS opinion did not hold that employers are free to discriminate.  Obtaining this legal knowledge can help you establish policies and practices that align with legal requirements and cut through the legal jargon to practical solutions. Get in contact with a diversity expert to stay compliant with regulations and anti-discrimination laws.

Scroll to Top