Fight Escalates Over Race-Based Hiring Program at the FAA

It may come as a shock to most Americans that the Obama administration dropped a skill- based system for selecting and hiring air traffic controllers (ATCs), and replaced it with a new system designed to favor applicants on the basis of their race.

It makes no sense. Worse yet, it is unconstitutional.

Next time you or your loved one travels by plane, you won’t care what the ATC’s skin color happens to be. You just want the best and most skilled person for the job!

Candidates who had trained for years and who had scored high on aptitude tests were dropped from consideration, in favor of lesser-trained people who fit the right biographical profile.

It should come as no surprise that the Obama-era FAA hiring program designed to favor racial minorities back- fired miserably.

Here’s the incredible irony—as a result of the Obama administration’s reckless decision, even some highly qualified minorities became collateral damage and lost out on job opportunities.

That’s right: The FAA’s decision to abandon merit-based hiring of ATCs ended up also discriminating against some highly qualified minorities!

It was a disaster all around. And Mountain States Legal Foundation has stepped up to challenge the government’s reckless disregard for public safety and its insult to the rule of law and the U.S.

Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. Here is the background in the case:

The original lawsuit, Brigida v. Chao, was prompted by the FAA’s 2013 decision to abandon its longtime hiring practice, which relied on a network of university- sponsored Collegiate Training Initiative (CTI) programs in cooperation with the FAA since 1991 to train and test future ATC’s.

The FAA’s new hiring regime abandoned the CTI program as a basis for hiring new controllers, and instead based hiring on a “biographical questionnaire” designed to screen out candidates who weren’t members of a preferred minority racial group.

As a result, thousands of qualified and highly-trained applicants, many of whom had spent years in school and had accumulated significant debt to pay for their educations, were turned away. Meanwhile, off-the-street candidates who passed the biographical questionnaire were given preference instead.

Andrew Brigida, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was one of several thousand CTI program participants who suffered discrimination because they did not fit the FAA’s new preferred ethnic profile as determined by the biographical questionnaire.

Recently, several new plaintiffs joined Andrew Brigida in the recently reener- gized lawsuit against the FAA: Suzanne Rebich, Mattew Douglas-Cook, and Pollyanna Wang.

Ms. Rebich who happens to be a licenced pilot, Mr. Douglas-Cook, an American Indian, and Wang, who is Asian-American, each suffered an unconstitutional loss of opportunity under the new hiring program. Although they were highly qualified CTI graduates, they, like Andrew Brigida, did not score high enough under the FAA’s pschyobabble biographical questionnaire to be considered for ATC positions. Instead, others who were less qualified were given a hiring preference.

The FAA’s decision to prioritize race rather than merit in hiring ATC’s was irresponsible. The agency put politics over public safety and broke federal law. As Justice Scalia wrote in ruling in favor of Mountain States Legal Foundation’s client, “In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.”

Discrimination against even qualified minority applicants was the unintended consequence of the Obama administration’s hiring scheme.

It was a clumsy attempt at racial discrimination, destined to fail.

“The FAA tried to fix a system that wasn’t broken,” said Mountain States Legal Foundation attorney Christian Corrigan, who represents the plaintiffs. “The victims here were not merely white and male. The FAA’s unconstitutional hiring practices hurt women, and they hurt Americans Indians, and other qualified minorities as well.”

Perhaps Justice Clarence Thomas expressed the principle best when
he wrote the following words: “The Constitution abhors classifications based on race because every time the government places citizens on racial registers and makes race relevant to the provision of burdens and benefits, it demeans us all.”

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Since 1977, MSLF has fought to protect private property rights, individual liberties, and economic freedom. MSLF is a nonprofit public interest legal foundation. We represent clients pro bono and receive no government funding. Make your 100% tax deductible contribution today and join the fight.

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