On-again, off-again bargaining between civil rights groups and big corporations over new antibias legislation is back on. But negotiators on both sides fear that White House intervention has poisoned the atmosphere and could kill the effort for this year. Talks broke off in March in a dispute over legal remedies for women who are victims of discrimination or harassment. But representatives of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Business Roundtable were making quiet progress when top White House officials began calling the chief executives of Roundtable companies. The message: The Administration, which has introduced its own civil rights bill, is displeased by the prospect of a deal being cut behind its back.
Civil rights lawyers Vernon Jordan and William T. Coleman Jr. trooped off to the White House in protest. Sources say they got no satisfaction. Business is willing to proceed with talks, but opposition is growing to the role of the Roundtable, which comprises 200 of the nation's largest corporations. In a letter to the White House, John E. Sloan Jr., president of the National Federation of Independent Business, complains that the positions of the Roundtable "do not reflect the views of the small-business community."