Southern California Diversity Plan Draws Legal Concerns

Southern California Diversity Plan Draws Legal Concerns

Producing Artistic Director of East West Players Tim Dang just announced a "call to action" addressing the SoCal theatre community and companies across the United States "demanding equity, diversity and inclusion" with a "51% Preparedness Plan for the American Theatre." The plan asks theaters to make sure, over the course of the next five years, that both their organization's artists and production personnel will be at least 51 percent people of color, women, or under 35 years of age.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the announcement has received some pushback from those arguing that the plan "would institute quotas and violate state and federal employment laws."

Tim Dang told the LA Times, "The more voices you have at the table, the more robust the conversation is. We have to start somewhere."

Responding to whether EWP's 51 percent number constitutes a quota, Dang explained that the figure is just a benchmark and that non-complying companies will meet no legal repercussions. But one of the potential drawbacks of not joining the initiative could be monetary; EWP is calling on funders to donate only to theaters who meet the plan's qualifications.

From a legal perspective, some experts say the plan could violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and sex.

President of the Center for Equal Opportunity Roger Clegg told the LA Times: "This plan is obviously designed to encourage employers to consider these factors in employment, so that's discrimination and that's what the law forbids. It's fine to encourage people of all ethnicities, races and gender to apply, and to look at them and to be more diverse in your storytelling and casting. But when it comes to hiring, firing and promoting, with an eye on skin color or gender or how old someone is, that's not something that falls within the law."

EWP will next facilitate conversations among local theatre companies and evenutally expand the program across the country, though there is no clear timeline.

The entire "51% Preparedness Plan for the American Theatre" document can be found on the website www.2042seechange.org. Read EWP's full announcement here.

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