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New Provision in Civil Rights Bill Unlikely to Alter Jewish Positions

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Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives have decided to amend proposed civil rights legislation to state specifically that minority hiring quotas are illegal.

But that is not expected to change any minds among proponents and opponents of the legislation in the Jewish community.

Nor has it seemed to change any minds in Congress and at the White House, where a spokesman said President Bush still considers it “a quota bill.” Bush vetoed a similar bill last year, contending it would result in quotas.

Making comments difficult is that no one has actually seen the revised bill, nor are they expected to see it before next week, when it will be introduced in the House.

Representatives of the only two major Jewish organizations to oppose the legislation, Agudath Israel of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, both stressed Thursday that they want to see the specific language.

William Rapfogel, executive director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs, said his organization “will take a very good look at the bill,” since the “nuance” of the actual language is important. “A little change of words can make a major difference,” he said.

Rapfogel said that when the Orthodox Union announced its opposition to the bill earlier this month, it stressed it wants to work with Congress and the administration in bringing about civil rights legislation that will not result in quotas.

But David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s general counsel, said that while he, too, wants to study the specific language, he believes it will be “extraordinarily difficult” to come up with legislation in which employers would not institute quotas to prevent a costly lawsuit.

Zwiebel explained that if an employer has to be conscious of the percentage of each group in his work force, as compared with the percentage of that group in the general population, quotas will be introduced.

But Michael Lieberman, associate director of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said the league welcomes the more explicit language on quotas in the revised bill.

Lieberman noted that the ADL and most other major Jewish organizations had insisted that the original bill was not a quota bill.

“We welcome changes that have been made further clarifying that it will not be a quota bill,” he said.

WOULD BAN RACE-NORMING PRACTICE

Jewish groups have pointed out that if an employer introduces quotas as a protection from a lawsuit, the employer could face legal action for having quotas.

The civil rights bill is aimed at circumventing five 1989 Supreme Court decisions that make it more difficult for people to prove they are victims of job discrimination.

The bill also would allow persons discriminated against because of their sex, religion or national origin to sue for compensatory and punitive damages. Such damages are now only allowed for victims of racial discrimination.

When the bill was introduced in the House in January as its first piece of legislation, supporters emphasized that the chief beneficiary of the new law would be women. But the changes made this week also put a $150,000 limit on what women could receive in damages.

“We are certainly disappointed that the compromise has put a cap on punitive damages,” said Sammie Moshenberg, Washington representative of the National Council of Jewish Women,.

But the women’s group remains in support of the bill, Moshenberg said, along with most major American Jewish organizations.

Lieberman said the ADL also was pleased that the revised law would ban “race-norming.”

This is a system where the aptitude test scores for job applicants are ranked on the basis of race or ethnic origin, rather than on the entire applicant pool.

Race-norming was introduced by the Reagan administration when minorities complained that the tests were unfair. But Lieberman said that outlawing the practice would encourage employers to develop tests that are fair.

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