A front-page story in the Washington Times reports that the Baltimore Orioles will refuse to sign any baseball player who has defected from Cuba. Syd Thrift, the club’s vice president for baseball operations, explained that the reason for the policy is a reluctance to threaten “the goodwill created between the two countries” after a home-and-home series last year between the Orioles and the Cuban national team. He also said that sometimes defectors are signed for too much money, since “a lot of times, you’re paying a lot of money for a player you haven’t seen play too much.”
Thrift didn’t mention that, starting in 1995, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has contributed $1,215,000 to Democratic candidates and organizations. Angelos met with Castro before last year’s game in Havana, and sat with him in the stands during the game. The Orioles’ new policy fits in nicely with the Clinton administration’s own efforts — most recently and dramatically illuminated by its gunpoint seizure of Elian Gonzalez — to cozy up to the Castro regime.
The Orioles policy is morally indefensible — telling those fleeing a totalitarian regime that they are unwelcome and unemployable — and it may be illegal as well.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides: “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to fail or refuse to hire … any individual … because of such individual’s … national origin.” The Orioles are refusing to hire Cuban defectors, and that sure sounds like discrimination on the basis of national origin.
Let’s be careful here, though. Liberal bureaucrats over the years have often — and wrongly — equated characteristics with national origin that actually only correlate with it: for instance, asserting that English-only rules for the workplace are illegal since many of those affected by such rules are likely to be from a particular country. So let’s see whether some sort of defense might be available to the Orioles.
The obvious claim that the Orioles might make is that it is not all Cubans who are being discriminated against, but only Cuban defectors. But this won’t wash.
If a company were to say that it would hire some blacks, just not blacks without college degrees, it would still be guilty of race discrimination if it would hire whites without college degrees. But there is no assertion here that the Orioles would refuse to hire defectors from any other country. And even if this assertion were made, it would be rather implausible. The fact of the matter is that the only country that baseball players defect from is Cuba, so this defense looks very “pretextual,” to use the jargon of a civil- rights lawyer.
There’s also another problem with this defense. A second civil-rights law — the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) — makes it illegal to refuse to hire aliens, including defectors, who are authorized to work in the United States. Indeed, in 1991 the Bush administration’s Justice Department threatened to sue major-league baseball when Rene Arocha, a Cuban pitcher who defected to the United States, was told that he could not be signed. Citing IRCA, the Justice Department required that all teams be instructed that, since Arocha had been granted work authorization, he could not be discriminated against on the basis of his citizenship status.
Finally, the Orioles might assert that, even if this is national-origin discrimination, it falls within the “bona fide occupational qualification” exemption to Title VII. But it will be very difficult for the Orioles to make this argument when (a) Cuban pitchers can undeniably pitch, and (b) every other ball club is happy to hire them.
Syd Thrift’s claim that sometimes defectors are overpaid won’t wash either. Lots of non-defectors are overpaid, too; the Orioles can refuse to hire those players without a track record; and there are plenty of defectors who do have a track record.
One last point. Suppose the Orioles say that the purpose of the prohibition on national-origin discrimination is to combat stereotypes of inferiority, and it shouldn’t apply in situations like this one where the discrimination has a motive other than a belief that a particular ethnic group is presumptively unqualified. If Peter Angelos is motivated by politics rather than bigotry, then he should be able to hire whom he likes, concludes this argument.
But that is not what the civil-rights laws say. They don’t say it is okay to discriminate against blacks if “that’s what my customers want,” or against whites because “diversity” is politically correct, or against Asians when they are already “overrepresented.” If you single out a particular group for unfavorable treatment, it doesn’t matter what your reasons are. And that’s why Peter Angelos is breaking the law.
I suggest a two-week suspension for him, just like the sentence given to that other notorious enemy of civil rights, John Rocker.
— Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling, Virginia. Today the Center for Equal Opportunity is announcing a new location for its website for those folks to visit who think they may have been illegally judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character: www.affirmativeactionwatch.net .