DeSantis Stop WOKE Act would ban CRT indoctrination in workplace as civil rights violation

If enacted, law would empower employees to sue Disney, other corporations practicing what Florida governor calls "the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory."

Updated: December 19, 2021 - 10:54pm

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' recent proposal to ban so-called critical race theory in K-12 public schools is the latest of several bans proposed or implemented by Republicans at the state level. 

But the DeSantis proposal is significantly different in two ways. It bans CRT workplace training, making it a violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act, and provides a mechanism for citizens to sue entities that don't comply with the law. The litigation approach is modeled after the recently enacted Texas abortion ban. 

"In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory," DeSantis vowed. "We won't allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other."

Unlike other state laws or proposals that only ban CRT from being taught in K-12 curriculum, the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop WOKE) Act allows parents to sue colleges, and employees to sue corporations, that teach it. 

DeSantis argues that threats of lawsuits prove to be a powerful disincentive. The Stop WOKE Act would follow the structure of Texas's new abortion ban law, which enables an unlimited number of citizens to sue abortion providers who violate the law. The threat of limitless lawsuits has successfully halted the majority of abortions from being performed in Texas. 

So far, no other state legislative plan or newly enacted law targets both public and private employers. DeSantis' bill seeks to help Florida employees who might find themselves in a hostile work environment "that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired 'training' and indoctrination," he says.

CRT "is an outgrowth of Critical Legal Studies, which was a leftist movement that challenged traditional legal scholarship," according to the UCLA School of Public Affairs. "It recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color."

If passed by the Florida Legislature next year, the Stop WOKE Act would protect, for example, employees who work for The Walt Disney Company, one of the largest employers in Florida. It owns Disney World and the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista and Orlando, as well as media and entertainment companies like ABC, ESPN, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Touchstone Pictures, among others. 

Christopher Rufo, who directs the Manhattan Institute's CRT Initiative, tweeted excerpts earlier this year from Disney's "diversity and inclusion" booklet, called "Reimagine Tomorrow: Where we all belong." 

The guidebook explains "systemic racism," "white privilege," "white fragility," "white saviors," "microaggressions," and "antiracism" and counsels employees to "take ownership of educating yourself about structural anti-Black racism" including learning to "not rely on your Black colleagues to educate you," which would be "emotionally taxing."

A handout provides a "self-assessment" checklist for employees to gauge how "privileged" they are. Employees are given a list of over 100 statements and asked to check off the boxes next to the statements that apply to themselves. The greater the number of boxes they check, the greater privilege they allegedly have, according to the document. 

"I am White," reads the first statement on the list. It's followed by: "I have never been discriminated against because of my skin color," "I have never been the only person of my race in a room," and "I have never been mocked for my accent." 

DeSantis' office published a list of examples of CRT being taught in the classroom and in corporations nationwide, including by Google and Bank of America Corp. 

Google's "antiracism" initiative includes materials that claim the U.S. is a "system of white supremacy" and all Americans are "raised to be racist," Rufo reports

Bank of America Corp.'s racial reeducation program encourages its employees to become "woke at work." It specifically instructs white employees to "decolonize your mind" and "cede power to people of color," according to Rufo.

Another initiative that claims capitalism is racist, was launched by American Express, the multinational card services corporation with a net worth of $135 billion, which profits from customers' credit card and other debt. The company hired a consulting firm to teach its employees its "Anti-Racism Initiative." 

AmEx employees were instructed to "deconstruct their own intersectional identities, mapping their 'race, sexual orientation, body type, religion, disability status, age, gender identity [and] citizenship' onto an official company worksheet," according to a Rufo op-ed in the New York Post.  

 Fox Business News reported on Truist Financial Corporation sponsoring a United Way CRT "Racial Equity 21-Day Challenge" this August. The challenge claims that the U.S. is systemically and institutionally racist, and encourages participants to "decolonize [their] mind[s]," urging white people to "cede power to people of color."

When announcing the Stop WOKE Act, DeSantis said: "You know, I think about it as if you're in a company and someone's telling dirty jokes or doing this, that could be considered a hostile work environment. 

"Well, how is it not a hostile work environment to be attacking people based on their race or telling them that they're privileged or that they're part of an oppressive system when all they're doing is showing up to work and trying to earn a living?"

The legislation aims to protect employees through statute classifying CRT training as an unlawful employment practice. Corporations and public sector employers subjecting their employees to such training would be violating the Florida Civil Rights Act and exposing themselves to lawsuits filed by employees.