During a virtual shareholders meeting in June, American Airlines (AA) former CEO Doug Parker said the airline’s “diversity, equity and inclusion” programs applied to highly specialized pilots as well as other employees.
The comments have drawn renewed scrutiny after the American Civil Rights (ACR) Project sent a letter this week to the Fort Worth-based Fortune 500 company demanding it retract any race-based hiring policies within 30 days, as The Dallas Express reported.
The ACR Project sent the letter on behalf of AA shareholders including the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR).
In the June meeting, Ethan Peck, an associate in NCPPR’s Free Enterprise Project, asked whether AA’s “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) guidelines applied to the hiring of pilots in addition to other positions.
“Oh, absolutely, of course,” Parker replied in comments reviewed by The Dallas Express.
Parker, who is stepping down as AA’s chairman of the board in April, pointed to an AA video, “Legacy of Firsts, Honoring Black Aviators,” that celebrates black pilots who have worked for the airline.
“It’ll show you the great work that we’re doing from a DEI perspective, especially with bringing black aviators to the business and then seeing their careers really, really prosper, especially at American,” Parker said.
Tuesday’s open letter pointed to Parker’s comments as evidence of racial discrimination in AA’s hiring process, reviving questions and concerns over the episode.
“Illegal discrimination is evil in all situations, and equity-based discrimination is still just discrimination. In picking pilots, it’s straight up insane,” Scott Shepard, director of the Free Enterprise Project at NCPPR, said of the incident at the time. “In its eagerness to stay woke despite ever-growing evidence that woke leads to failure, American Airlines is endangering lives and trashing its reputation.”
Peck concurred, adding that competence should take precedence over other qualities.
“It’s bigoted to think otherwise. But when it comes to pilots, it’s not just nondiscrimination, morality and productivity on the line; it’s passengers’ lives,” Peck added, according to an NCPPR press release on the incident.
In June 2020, American Airlines announced that it would “establish specific objectives” for increasing the percentage of “people in communities that have been historically underserved” in its workforce. By December 2021, the company said it had achieved its goal.
“We have become more intentional in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts,” AA said in a January 2022 news release. “As leaders, we strive to do and be better, and we are focused on creating a positive and equitable culture for our team members and, in turn, our customers because we know it makes our company stronger. In 2021, team member feedback helped us deepen our focus on the journey ahead.
“Importantly, we have set goals for our leaders and are measuring progress regularly because we know what gets measured gets done. Our success will help make our culture a competitive advantage,” it added.
ACR Project Executive Director Dan Morenoff alleged to The Dallas Express that AA’s actions violate federal and some state laws.
“None of this is legal, nor has it been for decades,” Morenoff said.
The states of Texas and Florida have pushed back against hiring based on race in recent weeks, but advocates still argue for the benefits of these practices.
“When hiring diverse talent, companies are typically hoping to gain new perspectives,” human resources manager Oshrat Binyamin wrote in a Forbes commentary.
State Rep. Sheryl Cole (D-Austin) told the Texas Tribune that these DEI initiatives are not meant to exclude people.
“They exist to foster, affirm, engage, and strengthen diverse communities because ultimately our diversity is our strength,” Cole told the newspaper.
American did not respond to The Dallas Express’ request for comment.
The Regional Airline Association union predicted that half of the pilots in the US will leave the business in the next 15 years, ABC News reported last April.
“The airlines are underwater and trying to breathe through a straw,” American 737 captain and union spokesperson Dennis Tajer told ABC. “Airlines are poaching each other’s pilots. It’s stunning the level of aggression.”