America First Legal (AFL), the legal group founded by Trump administration adviser Stephen Miller, this week filed a lawsuit against Target over its DEI practices and recent Pride campaign.
The lawsuit, filed in a Florida United States District Court by plaintiff Brian Craig, contends that Target made misleading statements about its DEI and ESG policies which “led to its disastrous 2023 children-and-family themed LGBT-Pride campaign.”
Among the outcomes Craig -- who owns roughly 217 shares in Target -- is seeking, are financial compensation for damages, and for Target's 2023 directors’ election to be voided.
The case follows, and likely resulted from, a message Miller put out on social media on May 28 shopping for a plaintiff, asking his followers, “Are you a Target shareholder worried about how Target’s promotion of transgender, LGBTQ and PRIDE products to children has affected shareholder value? We would love to hear from you,” and providing AFL contact information.
The lawsuit also falsely characterizes the campaign as “children-and-family themed,” and contends that Target Board members should have anticipated risks related to the campaign, while repeating misleading or dishonest claims about the nature of its Pride collection.
In reality, the political attacks on Target’s Pride campaign resulted from a coordinated effort by far-right political activists to spread disinformation mischaracterizing Target’s Pride collection and its Pride brand partners, including using deliberately misleading editing to falsely state that certain items were sold in children’s sizes. The resulting boycott campaign, notably, was supported by America First Legal’s founder himself.
Target was just one in a number of ongoing coordinated attacks on brands by far right, anti-LGBTQ+ activists, with the coordinated boycott of Bud Light over a single social media post activation with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney an early prominent example.
Self-identified “Theocratic fascist,” far-right political commentator and anti-trans activist Matt Walsh made the strategy plain enough from the outset, writing to his over 2 million followers on April 5:: “Here’s what we should do: Pick a victim, gang up on it, and make an example of it…. Claim one scalp then move onto the next."
“The goal is to make ‘pride’ toxic for brands,” Walsh wrote in a post on the morning of May 24, which became the day when “Target Pride” reached peak search interest. “First Bud Light and now Target. Our campaign is making progress. Let’s keep it going,”
Walsh and others weaponized the spread of disinformation against Target with false claims that the company was “selling chest binders & ‘tuck-friendly’ bathing suits” to children and choosing “Satanic” Pride partners. When these false claims were repeated or echoed across corners of the conservative media ecosystem, it led to threats of terrorist violence against Target workers. Citing concerns for employee safety, Target responded by issuing a statement and removing certain items which were “at the center of the most significant confrontational behavior.”
The complaint brought against Target obscures this reality, relying instead on an insistence that “the LGBT-Pride Campaign was so egregiously offensive to Target’s core customer base” as to constitute “prima facie evidence of the Board’s lack of oversight of social and political issues and risks.”
Target certainly can’t be accused of not responding to the coordinated boycott. In an investors call yesterday discussing the company’s Q2 earnings, Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell -- central among the defendants named in the lawsuit -- acknowledged that “The backlash against Target’s Pride merchandise also bit into sales,” while broadcasting that the company would respond with changes to its Pride approach next year to “navigate an ever-changing operating and social environment.”
The case has broad implications beyond Target, representing the civil legal arm of coordinated attacks by anti-LGTBQ+ far-right figures and organizations on brands, and with unprecedented legal attacks on LGBTQ+ rights across most of the country. Conservative legal advocacy groups are also seizing on the recent Supreme Court decision on race-conscious college admissions to argue against corporate DEI practices.
For brands eager to reach younger consumers who increasingly want them to uphold inclusive values, these attacks are troubling – at best a nuisance and at worst an ongoing, menacing threat. As with coordinated disinformation and boycott campaigns, the strategy will be to move from one brand to the next – and to make brands cave to fringe demands out of fear.
This is already happening. AFL also filed a complaint againstKellogg’s last week, asking the EEOC to investigate its employment practices over its DEI policy – which itself follows an earlier complaint brought against Nordstrom.
Another recent case related to a company’s DEI policy may provide some hope for a quick decision in Target’s favor, however.
Last Friday, a Federal Court judge in Washington dismissed as frivolous a case brought against Starbucks by the National Center for Public Policy Research over the company’s DEI practices. In a hearing, Reuters reported that U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Bastian said, ““If the plaintiff doesn’t want to be invested in ‘woke’ corporate America, perhaps it should seek other investment opportunities rather than wasting this court’s time.” It’s not hard to imagine a similar reaction from a judge in Target’s case at hand.