We asked. We sued. We won. We thought.
Now we’re suing again.
Last year the U.S. Department of Labor gave us diversity data for federal contractors in Silicon Valley after a long legal fight. And now the department is stalling again. So, we’re filing another lawsuit to get the same data for the same contractors, but for a different year.
Our victory in the courts meant that the public could see basic diversity statistics for large contractors such as Palantir and Oracle for the first time. The numbers revealed poor representation of women and minorities in some of the largest technology companies.
Palantir was one of 10 companies out of 167 of the largest Silicon Valley technology companies with no female executives in 2015.
The breakthrough required almost a year of legal back and forth, and resulted in the Department of Labor releasing federal contractors’ 2015 EEO-1 records over the objections of the companies, a break from a longtime policy of denying such requests.
But despite its surrender of 2015 data, the Labor Department is now refusing to release the same data for the same contractors for 2016, saying it wants to wait to see the outcome of a separate, ongoing Supreme Court case. This case, the agency argued, would determine the parameters of the exemption that it is using to withhold records as confidential business information or trade secrets.
“These records should be public,” said Victoria Baranetsky, Reveal’s general counsel. “Diversity statistics don’t qualify as confidential business information, under any possible interpretation of the law. The agency’s own actions prove this, as it previously chose to disclose nearly identical records.”
Federal contractors are increasingly using this exemption to hide business information, she added. “It’s important that the exception not be used as a pretext to hide embarrassing corporate information.”
Meanwhile, after reading Reveal’s investigation, a congressman is pressing the Department of Labor to release the diversity reports of federal contractors.
Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said in an interview with Reveal that he doesn’t agree that the federally mandated, one-page consolidated reports of workforce diversity should be classified as trade secrets or privileged information, two justifications many companies cited for not disclosing the data.
“If my boss told me to go out and say this is a trade secret, I would be embarrassed to utter those words,” Cleaver said. “What they’re actually saying is, ‘We gotta keep the dirty linen out of the public’s eye.’”
He called the idea that diversity reports are trade secrets “ridiculous on its face.”
In a letter to the department last month following Reveal’s investigation, Cleaver wrote, “These reports tread on the heels of a long history of firms seeking to enshroud information of public concern into well-guarded vaults of secrecy.”
The congressman had requested a response from the Labor Department by April 1, but said he hasn’t heard back.
‘’I’m not going to accept that somehow the Department of Labor can’t respond to that letter,” he said. “I know right now they’re probably struggling to figure out what to say. And that’s a tragedy in and of itself.”
The congressman said technology companies may be called to testify before a committee in the future, though it’s too soon for details.
“If they think this is something that we’re going to just ignore because they ignored providing information, they made another mistake.”
Reporter Will Evans contributed to this report.
Sinduja Rangarajan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cynduja.