Marin County ends four decades of hiring quotas for women

An agreement Marin County signed 43 years ago requiring a quota system for hiring women has been vacated by a federal judge at the county’s request.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg signed an order last month vacating a 1980 consent decree between the county and a now-defunct Marin chapter of the National Organization for Women.

The organization sued Marin in 1976 alleging that the county maintained employment policies that discriminated against women because of their sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The county entered into the agreement without admitting any allegations and without the court making any findings.

Regarding the dissolution of the agreement, former county supervisor Judy Arnold said, “I’m delighted. It was time.”

A year ago, Arnold vented her frustration with the longevity of the decree when the Marin Women’s Commission made a presentation to supervisors on Women’s Day. Until then, the commission had taken the lead in getting the decree lifted.

“I think it is interesting how long it has taken,” Arnold said at the time. “It says something about the priorities of the commission and their respect for the Board of Supervisors’ request.”

Speaking as the commission’s chair during that meeting, Sherene Chen said that over the years one stumbling block in getting the decree lifted had been convincing a majority of the commission’s 11 members to vote in favor of doing so.

Chen and other members of the commission did not respond to requests for comment on the decree’s demise. Minutes of their meetings over the last year show the commission has monitored the legal process closely. Barbara Anderson, the commission’s current chair, submitted a declaration in support of vacating the decree.

The biggest obstacle to getting the order lifted was that its termination required the approval of both parties.

“The original plaintiff in the 1970s lawsuit no longer exists,” said Marin County Counsel Brian Washington, “so we had to jump through a lot of procedural hoops in order to get the consent decree released.”

Washington said the National Organization for Women, which is based in Washington, D.C., felt uncomfortable standing in for the former Marin chapter because local chapters exist as independent legal entities.

“It wasn’t clear they would have the authority to do that,” Washington said. “The best way to provide clarity was to go into court.”

The county agreed to pay a Sacramento law firm up to $48,900 to assist with the legal effort.

The county’s motion to vacate the decree, which was filed in October, stated the decree required “strict quotas that are no longer legal or consistent with modern practice.” The motion said the decree is “patently unnecessary because of the multitude of actions taken by the county of Marin to advance the interests of women and people of color in county employment over the last forty years.”

In his order granting the motion, Seeborg wrote, “The county has satisfied and in some areas exceeded the goals of the consent decree, and further enforcement of the decree would be inequitable.”

The consent decree specified that the county had to ensure that the percentage of women in each Equal Employment Opportunity Commission job category in Marin reflected the supply of females in the “relevant labor market for such category.”

The relevant labor market is generally the counties in the Bay Area from where the county typically hires its employees. Marin has met this requirement with the exception of the job categories of skilled craft and service/maintenance.

Seeborg wrote, “Though the county has not achieved literal compliance with the quotas, the deviations are minor and do not substantially defeat the essential purpose of the decree.”

According to data compiled by the county Department of Human Resources, women have accounted for more than 50% of the county’s workforce and more than 50% of its managers since at least 2012.

Roger Crawford, the county’s equal employment director, said women now comprise 56.9% of the county workforce and 51% of its managers. Three of the five members of the Marin County Board of Supervisors are women.

“Since entry of the decree, changes in federal and state laws make such quotas legally suspect,” Seeborg wrote in his ruling.

Seeborg wrote that “1991 amendments to Title VII prohibit consideration of sex as a factor in an employment decision.” He also noted the approval of Proposition 209 by California voters in 1996, which amended the state constitution to prohibit state governmental institutions from considering race, sex or ethnicity in the areas of public employment, public contracting and public education.

The county’s filing stated that while Proposition 209 exempted existing consent decrees, “that proposition demonstrates the California public’s strong interest in moving away from quota-based affirmative action practices.”

According to the county’s motion, “As required by the decree, the county has established and maintained an ‘affirmative action’ recruitment program aimed at recruiting greater numbers of women, though it has abandoned the outdated ‘affirmative action’ label and refers to its program as Equal Employment Opportunity.”

When asked what changes will occur in the county’s hiring practices following the lifting of the decree, Crawford said, “The county is and will continue to be an equal opportunity employer.”

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