Stop hiring interns based on race, PLF tells Los Angeles Zoo

March 20, 2024 | By NICOLE W.C. YEATMAN
Los Angeles Zoo

The Los Angeles Zoo—which is owned by the City of Los Angeles and receives 1.8 million visitors per year—selects its paid interns based on their race.  

Pacific Legal Foundation sent a letter to the Zoo this week, pointing out that its discriminatory internship program likely violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause as well as national and state civil rights laws. 

The Zoo’s website explains that “this 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 Supreme Court has long held that racial discrimination is presumptively unconstitutional. To justify its race-based hiring, the Zoo would have to prove it “further[s] compelling governmental interests” and is “narrowly tailored” to those interests, according to the Court’s 1995 ruling in Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña.  

The Zoo is unlikely to pass that test.  

In the letter, addressed to the Zoo’s executive director, PLF attorney Jack Brown writes: 

In the context of racial discrimination, the only interest that is sufficiently compelling to satisfy strict scrutiny is “remediating specific, identified instances of past discrimination that violated the Constitution or a statute.” Students for Fair Admissions, 600 U.S. at 207. The Zoo is unlikely to have specific evidence of any past racial discrimination against interns on its part that violated the Constitution or a statute. Id. The United States Supreme Court explained in Students for Fair Admissions that “diversity” goals are not a compelling reason to discriminate based on race. Id. at 214. And even before Students for Fair Admissions, remedying “societal discrimination” or “underrepresentation” in the zoo and conservation fields are not valid reasons to adopt a facially discriminatory program. 

“Given the grave constitutional concerns at issue,” the letter concludes, “please let me know by April 20, 2024, whether the Zoo intends on amending its hiring criteria for the Paid Internship Program so that race and/or ethnicity will no longer be factors for hiring in the future.” 

PLF works to dismantle arbitrary government barriers to opportunity. Our firm is currently representing clients across the country in challenging race- and sex-based selection processes for public contracting, seats on regulatory boards, housing programs, business licenses, education programs, and more. 

Limiting opportunities to people of certain races violates the Constitution. The Los Angeles Zoo has just been reminded of that. 

Read the full letter.