240. Memorandum From the Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel (Barnes) to the Under Secretary of State for Management (Read)1


  • The Women’s Class Action Suit and Numerical Goals for Women

The quality of M/EEO’s numerical goals study2 has been substantially improved in recent weeks. There are still technical questions, however, about some elements essential to the study. One question is the basis for defining an appropriate labor pool of female potential FSOs. The study now takes some account of the special nature of the Foreign Service—the need for worldwide availability, which reduces the number of women realistically available to become FSOs—but without meaningful supporting documentation.

There is also a policy issue still to be decided: does the present situation justify or require the adoption of numerical goals for women. Such goals, once adopted, will be burdensome and expensive to carry out. If the recent and present performance of the Department in this area is demonstrably satisfactory, it would be far preferable to monitor closely the situation of women in the Foreign Service, rather than to establish numerical goals.

The women’s class action suit is another important factor to be considered, as follows:

(1) We have engaged as an expert witness for this case one of the nation’s foremost labor economists, Dr. Seymour Wolfbein, formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor, and currently Dean of Temple University’s School of Business Administration. As part of his preparation for giving testimony, Dr. Wolfbein’s staff is evaluating the Department’s performance in employing women in relationship to labor market availability. The M/EEO study examines precisely the same issue. Assuming that both studies are conducted in an equally competent and professional manner, they will still be unlikely to reach identical conclusions. I think we should not endorse numerical goals for women, at least until we see Dr. Wolfbein’s proposed testimony.

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(2) The Assistant U.S. Attorney handling our case, Diane Sullivan, is concerned that setting goals while the case is still pending may be used by the plaintiffs to attack us for past practices. Moreover, she is concerned that if the courts do find in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge might latch onto proposed or established goals as the appropriate remedy. In lieu of goals, we could find ourselves saddled with strict court-ordered quotas.

(3) It is questionable whether numerical goals for women are necessary to achieve our objective of having a Foreign Service fully representative of U.S. society. The basic data developed in association with the Women’s Class Action suit (see my memo of March 6, 1980)3 show that female FSOs as a group have fared quite well in the past 10 years. Their number has more than doubled; their promotion rates compare favorably with men’s; they are almost never selected out; and their expressed preferences for geographical and functional cone assignments are honored more frequently than are men’s. Our personnel policies have contributed to these trends, and it is reasonable to expect the trends to continue as long as these policies are retained.

Under these circumstances, it makes much better sense to monitor closely the situation of women in the Foreign Service than to establish numerical goals. The pending class action suit offers one more reason not to establish numerical goals for women at the present time.4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Records of the Under Secretary for Management (M), 1980, Box 3, Chron March 15–18, 1980. No classification marking. Drafted by Lesser and Fuller; cleared by Gershenson, Clint Lauderdale (PER/REE), and R. Wiggins (DGP/PC). Copies were sent to Burroughs, John Gravely (M/MO), and Lauderdale.
  2. Not found.
  3. See Document 239.
  4. After a trial, the U.S. District Court found on September 13, 1985, that no unlawful discrimination had occurred and the case was dismissed. (Alison Palmer, et al., Appellants v. George P. Schullz, As Secretary of State, Marguerite Cooper, et al., Appellants v. George P. Schultz, As Secretary of State, 616 F. Supp. 1540 (D.D.C. 1985). An appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed that decision on March 24, 1987 (815 F.2d (D.C. Cir. 1987)), and sent the case back to the Disctrict Court. See “Foreign Service Women’s Case Revived,” Washington Post, March 25, 1987. In January 1989, the U.S. District Court ordered the Department of State to revamp its entrance examination and to offer women opportunities to bid for assignments they were denied because of discrimination. The Department estimated that approximately 600 women were affected by the decision. See “Foreign Service Dances to New Tune,” Washington Post, April 21, 1989, and “Under Pressure, State Department Moves to End Its Sex Discrimination,” New York Times, April 21, 1989.