An Austin federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a white male lawyer who alleged the State Bar of Texas was following a “quota” system for appointing minority members to its board of directors after finding his case was mooted after the Texas Legislature changed the law.
Greg Gegenheimer filed the federal discrimination suit against the bar last year alleging it violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution by following a statute requiring that its board of directors must include four minority members who are defined as “female, African-American, Hispanic-American, Native American, or Asian-American.”
Gegenheimer, a retired Austin family lawyer, complained that the law found Section 81.020 of the Texas Government Code improperly barred him from being considered for a position on the board reserved for a minority because he is a white male.
But the Texas Legislature amended that law as of June 15 of this year. The amendment known as S.B. 416 no longer requires the appointment of minority-member bar directors but rather provides for the appointment of “at-large” members who represent the interests of attorneys “from the varied backgrounds that compose the State Bar.”
Gegenheimer still tried to advance his lawsuit, arguing that his lawsuit was not mooted because the new race and gender neutral law would still disadvantage white males.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of the Western District of Texas did not find Gegenheimer’s arguments convincing, and in a Wednesday decision dismissed his case for lack of jurisdiction.
“Plaintiff’s argument assumes that either white males lack the knowledge and experience necessary to represent the State Bar’s constituencies or that the State Bar will act in a racially discriminatory manner toward white men despite their qualifications. The court can adopt neither of these assumptions,” Pitman wrote in the Wednesday decision.
“Stereotypical notions” cannot form the basis for courts to decide constitutional matters, he added.
Gegenheimer also argued that his case was not mooted because the effects of the previous law still persisted in the continued presence of minority members on the bar’s board of directors.
Pitman also shot down that argument.
“The violation asserted in this action is the denial of plaintiff’s ability to compete for open director positions on equal footing with racial and gender minorities. The amendments of S.B. 416 afford a complete remedy for plaintiff’s injury: he is able to apply and be considered for an at-large director position without regard to his race or gender,” Pitman wrote. “The court does not find it relevant that several minority-member directors remain on the board until their terms expire.”
Gegenheimer said he is not sure whether he will appeal Pitman’s decision.
“I’m not going to comment on his decision yet because we’re still before him,” Gegenheimer said. “There are still people on that board who were appointed under an unconstitutional process. So that’s one of the issues that we have.”