Category Archives: Affirmative Action

September 3, 2013

OFCCP Announces New Veterans and Disability Regulations for Contractors

By Brad Cave 

OFCCP-logoLast week, the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) announced Final Rules that are intended to improve job opportunities for disabled workers and veterans.  Whether the rules will accomplish that purpose is uncertain; what is clear is that the new rules greatly increase affirmative action requirements and burdens on federal contractors.    Under the new regulations, federal contractors and subcontractors face significantly increased documentation, data collection, recordkeeping and hiring goals. 

Key Provisions of New Disability and Veterans Regulations 

On August 27, 2013, OFCCP released the content of its Final Rules that change the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act as amended by the Jobs for Veterans Act of 2002 (VEVRAA).  Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination in employment decisions against individuals with disabilities and requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to recruit, hire, promote and retain disabled workers.  VEVRAA prohibits federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating against protected veterans and requires affirmative action in employing these veterans.  The key provisions of the Final Rules that change the regulations implementing these laws include: 

  • A 7% Utilization Goal for Qualified Individuals with a Disability.  For the first time, contractors must strive to employ disabled workers at a level that reaches 7% of each job group.  For contractors with 100 or fewer employees, the 7% goal applies to the contractor’s entire workforce, rather than each job group.  OFCCP states that this is not a quota and failure to meet the disability utilization goal will not, by itself, constitute a violation of the regulation.  However, OFCCP requires contractors to conduct an annual utilization analysis to find deficient areas and determine specific actions to rectify identified problems.


  • Establishing Hiring Benchmarks for Veterans.  Without setting a specific utilization goal for hiring veterans, OFCCP will require federal contractors to establish hiring benchmarks each year for protected veterans.  Contractors may choose to use the national percentage of veterans in the civilian labor force, as updated annually by OFCCP (currently 8%), as a benchmark, or may establish their own benchmark using a combination of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service and the contractor’s unique hiring circumstances.


  • Collect and Retain Comparison Data on Disabled and Veteran Applicants and Employees.  Under the Final Rules, contractors must document quantitative comparisons of the number of disabled workers and veterans who applied for jobs and the number hired.  The data must be compiled annually and retained by the contractor for three years in order to track trends and measure outreach efforts.


  • Ask Applicants and Employees to Self-Identify as Individuals with a Disability and as a Veteran.  The Final Rules mandate that employers invite applicants at both the pre-offer and post-offer stage to self-identify themselves as individuals with a disability and as veterans.  The Final Rules further require that contractors invite their current employees to self-identify at least every five years.  OFCCP offers sample self-identification language.


  • Mandated Equal Opportunity Clause in Subcontracts.  Under the Final Rules, contractors must include specific language to incorporate the equal opportunity clause into subcontracts so that subcontractors know their responsibilities as federal contractors.


  • Provide OFCCP Access to Records.  The Final Rules specify that contractors must allow OFCCP to review documents related to a focused review or compliance check either on-site or off-site, at OFCCP’s option.  OFCCP can request that contractors reveal all formats in which they maintain records and then request the records in whatever format OFCCP chooses.


  • Updates to Comply with the ADAAA.  The  Final Rule related to the disability regulations updates the regulations in light of the revised definition of “disability” and certain nondiscrimination provisions under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).


Still Burdensome, But Some Proposals Slightly Watered Down  

Federal contractors were critical of the many regulatory changes first proposed by the OFCCP in 2011.  OFCCP received many comments in response to the proposed rules and made some modest improvements based on those comments.  For example, the proposed rules sought to impose a five-year recordkeeping requirement.  The Final Rules reduced that requirement to three years.  The proposed disabilities rule sought to require contractors to review their physical and mental job qualifications on an annual basis while the Final Rule allows contractors to establish their own schedule for reviewing job qualifications.  Despite these and other small revisions from the proposed to the final regulations, the Final Rules add significant burdens on contractors who must revamp their employment policies and documentation practices to comply with the new regulations.

So, Are You Sure You’re Not Disabled? 

The new hiring quota for disabled individuals places employers in a very awkward position.  For the first time, employers are required to ask and need to know whether applicants and employees consider themselves to be disabled.  Under these rules, employers are expected to meet the 7% “goal” by workgroup.  But some employees who meet the definition of disabled will not consider themselves to be disabled or be reluctant to disclose their status to their employer.  The OFCCP recognized that a study has shown that only about 50% of those with disabilities are likely to self-identify.  The OFCCP is not concerned about this high degree of inaccuracy.  According to its preamble to the new rules, even inaccurate data which greatly underreports the number of disabled applicants and employees will still assist the contractor and the OFCCP to evaluate the contractor’s hiring and selection process!  Stated differently, the OFCCP does not care if the data is faulty by as much as 50% as long as it has some data on which to base its enforcement decisions. 

The OFCCP also suggested that employers should designate individuals as disabled, even if they decline to self-identify, where the disability is obvious or the employer knows about the disability.  Of course, for years we have cautioned employers to never label an employee as disabled to avoid “regarded as” claims under the ADA.   Now, employers who are federal contractors will have an incentive to identify employees as disabled to meet the goal, and have the OFCCP’s permission to do so.  In an interesting twist, the OFCCP’s permission for employers to designate employees as disabled was explained in the preamble to the new rule, not in the new regulations.   Since the preamble does not have the force and effect of law, the OFCCP’s permission is not likely to have much value as a defense to an employee’s allegation that the employer regarded them as disabled when the employer designates the employee for purposes of complying with this rule.  While federal contractors may have little choice if a disabled employee declines to self-identify, it will continue to be very important for employers to keep all such designations strictly confidential and out of the hands of supervisors and managers. 

Effective Date of the Disability and Veterans Affirmative Action Final Rules 

The Final Rules become effective 180 days after they are officially published in the Federal Register which is expected to occur in the next two weeks.  Consequently, contractors have about six months to get policies and procedures in place to comply with the new regulations.  Contractors subject to written affirmative action plan requirements are allowed to continue with the plan they have in place on the effective date of the Final Rules.  However, the next cycle of their affirmative action plan must be drafted to comply with the new regulations. 

OFCCP will be hosting webinars on the new regulations.  Information about the webinars and the Final Rules may be found on the OFCCP website:

Disclaimer:This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.

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July 1, 2013

Affirmative Action by State University Requires Strict Scrutiny and No Workable Race-Neutral Alternatives

College gradsBy Jude Biggs 

In a highly anticipated opinion regarding the future of affirmative action, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that to avoid violating the Equal Protection Clause, the University of Texas’ consideration of race in its admissions process must meet a strict scrutiny standard where its affirmative action efforts are narrowly tailored to meet its diversity goal.  Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, No. 11-345 (U.S. June 24, 2013).  Because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals gave the University substantial deference in deciding whether its affirmative action plan was narrowly tailored to meet its stated goal, the Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s decision in favor of the University and sent the case back to the lower court with instructions to apply the tougher strict scrutiny standard.

Rejected Caucasian Applicant Alleges School Violated Constitution by Considering Race  

In 2008, Fisher applied for admission to the University of Texas at Austin.  Fisher, who is white, was denied admission.  For years, the University had considered race as one of various factors in its undergraduate admissions process.  Under the affirmative action plan in place when Fisher applied, the University remained committed to increasing racial minority enrollment on campus but did not assign a numerical value based on race for each applicant.  Instead, the University included an applicant’s race as one of numerous components that made up the applicant’s Personal Achievement Index.  When Fisher was rejected, she sued the University and various school officials alleging that the University violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by considering race.   

Affirmative Action Survives, But Is Narrowed 

The federal district court and the Fifth Circuit appellate court upheld the University’s admissions plan.  The Fifth Circuit, however, gave substantial deference to the University, both in the definition of its compelling interest in creating diversity in its student body and in deciding whether its affirmative action plan was narrowly tailored to meet its goal.  When the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case, supporters of affirmative action worried that the more conservative court would rule that consideration of race under affirmative action programs was unconstitutional.  

The Fisher decision, however, does not actually decide the constitutionality issue but instead defines the standard by which courts must evaluate a program that considers race as a factor.  The Court explained that the University must meet the demanding burden of strict scrutiny and remanded the case to the Fifth Circuit to analyze whether the University has offered sufficient evidence to prove that its admissions policy meets that scrutiny.  The Court stated that “the reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” 

Justice Thomas: “Use of Race is Categorically Prohibited” 

Justice Clarence Thomas joined in the majority’s decision, agreeing that strict scrutiny should apply to the University’s use of race in its admission program.  Writing a separate concurring opinion, however, he went further, stating that he would hold that a state’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.  Justice Thomas would overrule the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the use of race as one of many “plus factors” in an admissions program, and abolish the use of race as a factor in affording educational opportunities.  He finds that there is no compelling interest that could justify what he calls racial discrimination.  He states that there is no doubt that the University’s discrimination injures white and Asian applicants who are denied admission because of their race, but he also believes that those who are admitted under the “discriminatory admissions program” suffer even more harm, stamping them with a “badge of inferiority.”

Justice Thomas’ views differ from those of retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote in 2003 in Grutter, that “classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited, and simply more enlightening and interesting” when students are exposed to the “greatest possible variety of backgrounds.”  Justice O’Connor also stated that the Court expected that after 25 more years, the use of racial preferences would no longer be needed.  Today, some might say American universities have reached the point when affirmative action is no longer needed; others, however, do not believe the United States has achieved the promise of true equality. 

Whether Justice Thomas’ view is adopted or whether Justice O’Connor’s views remain in force in the future – at least for awhile – remains to be seen. 

Will Fisher Be Revisited Again? 

The Fifth Circuit now must apply the strict scrutiny standard to the evidence provided by the University of Texas to determine whether its consideration of race meets Equal Protection muster.  No matter the outcome, it is likely the “losing” party will seek review of that decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.  We know how Justice Thomas will rule, but the question remains, will enough other justices join him to throw out any consideration of race in state affirmative action programs? 

Private Employers Not Bound by This Decision  

Because the Equal Protection clause applies only to state actors (providing that no state shall deny to any person the equal protection of the laws), the analysis of whether an affirmative action program violates the Equal Protection clause does not apply to private companies or organizations.  That said, there could be a spillover effect.  Generally, discrimination in the workplace is governed by Title VII and analogous state laws.  It is unclear whether individuals who feel they have suffered reverse discrimination by a private employer’s affirmative action or diversity efforts will leverage the narrowing scope of affirmative action in the public sector.  It is likely private sector litigants will point to Justice Thomas’ concurring opinion to try to abolish any consideration of race in the employment context as discriminatory, and others will point to Justice O’Connor’s rationale for affirmative action.  So stayed tuned! 

Disclaimer:This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.

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