LA Zoo’s Race-Based Internships Prompt Warning From Law Firm

LA Zoo’s Race-Based Internships Prompt Warning From Law Firm

The zoo's paid internships pay $17 an hour for 200 hours over 10 weeks. Above, giraffes at the L.A. Zoo in November 2023. (L.A. Zoo)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

3/20/2024

Updated: 3/20/2024

The Los Angeles Zoo’s race-based internship program is probably unconstitutional and could also violate federal and state civil rights laws, a national legal foundation said in a March 19 “cease and desist” letter.
Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest law firm based in Arlington, Va., sent the letter to zoo Director Denise Verret, according to the letter provided to The Epoch Times.
“The Los Angeles Zoo’s hiring process is unconstitutional because it discriminates against applicants based on their race,” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Jack Brown said in a statement to The Epoch Times.
Cease and desist letters are generally used to attempt to resolve a dispute before legal action is taken.
In the letter, Mr. Brown told the zoo he was concerned that the zoo’s paid internship program limits hiring to “college students from systemically excluded identities in the zoo and conservation fields.”
The zoo’s website explains that the 10-week internship program is specifically available to applicants who “identify as Black, Indigenous, people of color, people with varying abilities, and/or the LGBTQIA+ communities.”
The interns would make $17 an hour and work for 200 hours directly with industry professionals on real-world projects and present their experiences at the end of the term, according to the website.
“Basing eligibility for internships on an applicant’s race is presumptively unconstitutional and is subject to strict scrutiny,” Mr. Brown wrote in the letter to the zoo. “The zoo likely cannot justify such overt discrimination.”
According to Mr. Brown, the zoo would not be able to show that discriminating against prospective interns based on race furthers a compelling governmental interest, among other justifications, and therefore violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
The clause states that no state shall make or enforce a law that abridges the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process, or deny any person equal protection of the laws.
The legal foundation has given the zoo an April 20 deadline to let the organization know whether it intends to amend its hiring criteria to exclude race and ethnicity factors.
Pacific Legal Foundation has experience challenging the constitutionality of race- and sex-based discrimination in California and nationwide. The organization was founded in 1973 by members of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan’s staff as the first public interest law firm of its kind. The firm has won 17 of 19 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Los Angeles Zoo did not return a request for comment about the letter by press time.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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