Domestic violence attorney Nicole Levitt stands up to the racist ideology of diversity, equity, and inclusion
Nicole Levitt, an attorney who represents domestic violence survivors, recently filed a discrimination complaint against her employer, Women Against Abuse (WAA), for, among other things, asking white staffers to sign declarations that all white people are racist, including themselves.
In a recent episode of EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders,” Levitt shares her story with host Jan Jekielek and why she believes woke ideology has corrupted the mission of her employer.
Mr. Jekielek: Nicole, you work for one of the largest domestic violence nonprofits in the United States, Women Against Abuse. You went into this because this was an important issue for you. But sometime in the summer of 2020, you realized something was amiss.
Ms. Levitt: After George Floyd was killed, my organization, like organizations across the country, had DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] trainings and racial justice meetings. It came to a point where I felt the trainings were all relying on stereotypes, discrimination, and scapegoating. And we were also split into affinity groups.
I found the idea of being split up on the basis of race to be regressive, so I stopped going to the meetings. We were still bombarded every day with material about white supremacy. It was really excessive and, frankly, illegal.
It all came to a head for me when we were asked to sign a contract governing our behavior in the legal center. One of the items was that all white people are racist, without exception. There was no way I was going to sign a statement saying that I was racist, or that all white people were racist, or that all of any race was anything. I refused to sign it, and so I had to go to a meeting with the DEI consultant at the time. It was supposed to be a short meeting, but it ended up being a 90-minute-long thought reform session. The reason they gave me for having to go to the meeting was to ascertain whether I was safe to be around my black and brown co-workers and clients.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve told me that people were stunned when you said you didn’t think there was racism.
Ms. Levitt: Everyone there is committed to racial justice. We represent black and brown clients, and we do a good job of it. So, I couldn’t see where the racism was coming from. The issue here is the new definition of racism, which is prejudice plus power. But I was stunned. Everyone was looking at me like I had two heads when I said, “I don’t think we are racist.”
If you dissent from any part of this ideology, you’re branded as racist or problematic. People need to get used to the idea that people might call them racist and not worry about it, or else they’re going to be forever beholden to these ideas. And if they do that, they’ll lose their integrity.
Mr. Jekielek: What was the reaction to you not participating in the affinity groups?
Ms. Levitt: No one said anything about it. But there was another incident where a colleague had emailed an article about anti-Semitism in the social justice movement. She sent it to the legal center. I chimed in and said, “That’s great. I would hope WAA would support this as well.” And that set off a firestorm of controversy. I got a ton of disapproving emails that accused me of furthering white supremacy, taking the spotlight away from black and brown people, and saying that anti-black racism is so much worse than anti-Semitism. After that, I did have frostier relationships with some of my colleagues. Even management said it was a problematic interaction.
The language being used was so dehumanizing to white people and black people that I didn’t want anything to do with it. I honestly believe that people in the organization espouse this ideology in good faith. I don’t think they’re being malevolent. I don’t say the same about some of the consultants and the originators of these ideas, and the people who are making a lot of money off these ideas.
Mr. Jekielek: As a result of all of this, you have a case at the EEOC, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Please tell me how that came about.
Ms. Levitt: After I refused to sign the contract and had the thought reform session, I knew I had to do something about it. I didn’t want it to come to this, because I honestly love my job. So I had a choice: Keep quiet or do something. And I chose to do something. My hope is that this will change and I can continue working there, but I don’t know if that’s going to be the case.
Mr. Jekielek: Let me read something from the document. First of all, “Levitt has satisfied all of the elements for a prima facie case of Title VII discrimination.” You can tell me what that is in a moment. “WAA has admitted to this disparate treatment, including admitting the differences in pay for white employees and promoting segregated work groups to the EEOC.” What is this about differences in pay?
Ms. Levitt: WAA brought in some consultants to do a racial equity audit. The premise of the audit is to find where white supremacy manifests in your organization. Not, “Does white supremacy manifest in your organization?” but “Where?” They’re going to find it. They needed people on the audit committee, and those people would receive a stipend. They said that the black and brown members of the committee would receive a higher stipend, due to the emotional labor they would have to perform.
Mr. Jekielek: Before this interview, you said that all sorts of people write to you and say, “We didn’t realize that civil rights law applies to whites as well.” I thought that was astounding. The situation you’re describing is similar to this.
Ms. Levitt: A lot of people are under that assumption, and it’s wrong, because the civil rights laws are for everyone no matter what your color is.
Mr. Jekielek: What exactly is Title VII discrimination?
Ms. Levitt: Title VII is part of the Civil Rights Act, and it governs the workplace. It forbids discrimination on the basis of race. That’s it in a nutshell. Part of my complaint is also about a racially hostile atmosphere. If you’re subjected to hostile messages about race every day, that can be a hostile atmosphere in your workplace.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned there was also guidance on how you should do your work that you found problematic.
Ms. Levitt: There were a lot of discussions about defunding the police. While there are problems with the police, just like there are problems with almost anything, our clients need the police to stop the abuse. What is a social worker going to do in one of these violent situations? Domestic violence situations are some of the deadliest calls for police officers. So, if you send a social worker or someone who’s versed in restorative justice on one of these calls, what do you think is going to happen? It could be tragic.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you hope can happen with your organization? Let’s use it as a model for the bigger picture, too.
Ms. Levitt: Organizations need to realize that this type of DEI training is disruptive to an organization. It pulls organizations away from their core missions, and it’s very divisive. There are DEI programs that aren’t divisive. They don’t divide people by race, because they’re more about bringing them together. And you really don’t need to have any soul-baring sessions at work. Stay focused on your mission.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you hope the outcome of your suit will be? A lot of people are watching this very closely.
Ms. Levitt: I hope more people stand up. I hope people realize there are more people like them than they think, and they too can stand up to this. There wasn’t anything special about me that made me do this. Anyone can do it. You just have to put your head down and swim.
Mr. Jekielek: I wish you the best of success. Any final thoughts as we finish up?
Ms. Levitt: I would like everyone to remember that the civil rights laws are for everyone. This issue, although it’s often painted as a right-wing issue, is not about left or right; it’s about right or wrong. Are we going to allow discrimination, or are we ready to stop it?
EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders” reached out to Women Against Abuse. A spokesperson acknowledged that Levitt has filed a claim with the EEOC. WAA said that while it “cannot comment on this open EEOC claim,” it believes that “[its] actions in relation to Ms. Levitt and [its] racial equity work were legal.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.