As the trend for achieving diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) in the workplace continues to be a focus for employers, it’s important to closely monitor progress, as a recent court case involving a police officer and his employer demonstrates.

The case, Kohler v. City of Cincinnati involves a white male police officer and his employer, the City of Cincinnati. In the case, Kohler asserts that there is systematic discrimination against white males and cites two consent decrees from 1980 and 1987 that were introduced to help diversify the police force at the time.

The 1980 decree requires the City of Cincinnati to meet and maintain diversity quotas for its police force, specifically, “35% of all new hires must be African American, and 23% of all new hires must be women.” The decree adds that “for promotion to sergeant, African Americans and women must comprise at least 25% of all such promotions.”

In 1987, the City entered another decree that required promotions to Lieutenant, Captain, and Assistant Chief within the police department to have at least 25% women or African American officers.

Kohler argues that while it was a just and well-intended decree at the time, 40 years later the decrees are causing potentially reverse discriminatory effects on the police force, with the diversity having gone too far in the other direction. Since the decrees were first introduced, the police department “has undertaken a massive shift in demographics such that its employee makeup exceeds the targets contained in the consent decrees at issue.”

In making his case, Kohler uses himself as an exemplar and references a time where he was up for the promotion of Sergeant. Kohler and 19 other police officers had to undergo an exam. Kohler took the exam in 2019 and in 2020. For the most recent examination, Kohler was not selected for promotion despite receiving the eighth highest score. The Sergeant promotion instead was awarded to one of his African American colleagues who actually scored lower. Because of the consent decrees of 40 years earlier, Kohler asserts he was not awarded the promotion and feels the decree will continue to perpetuate the issue and create barriers to his advancement going forward.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Police Chief Eliot Isaac argue, however, that the consent decrees are not at fault and are necessary for diversifying the police force. Issac said in an interview with Cincinnati WCPO, “Our communities deserve and they demand a workforce that reflects their makeup.”

Issac and Cranley sent a joint letter to President Biden reiterating the importance of the decrees, saying specifically that removing them could set back “decades of progress in minority inclusion in the Cincinnati Police Department.” Issac also said in the letter regarding the decrees “Without it, I would not be chief.” further signaling the important role of the decrees.

According to a post by ABC Cincinnati, Cranley told the station in reference to the consent decrees, “We need to maintain it in order to maintain the diversity in our department,” adding that “Sadly, it’s been proven in the diversity numbers in other police departments across the country, and in Cincinnati prior to 1980, but for that consent decree, we wouldn’t have the diversity that we currently have.”

While the case is still in the early stages, it demonstrates the importance of actively monitoring DEI efforts. Whether Kohler is successful in his assertion or not, it’s a reminder that organizations need to be diligent about DEI monitoring. Just as much effort also needs to go into the thought behind setting DEI goals. Set it and forget it mottos are not going to be sufficient for achieving diversity in the workplace. 

With the Biden administration already implementing measures to ensure employers are fostering a fairer work environment, the NASDAQ looking to adopt diversity rules for companies listed, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals becoming a priority, employers need to be deliberate in their DEI efforts.

Best practices for setting, measuring, and meeting DEI goals include actively pulling workforce data to power your decisions. When retrieving your data, develop a system for displaying your data in a simple, easy-to-digest format. Be transparent with DEI data and empower the right people within your organization to take action, set goals that result in accountability, and create new norms around diversity.

Employers looking to ensure their DEI goals are legitimate should download our white paper, DEI in ESG Reporting to learn about setting and sharing goals that make an impact. This guide can help your business identify key strengths and weaknesses in your initiatives and help you make progress towards meeting your DEI goals and disclosing them if you choose to do so.