Our commitment to promoting and protecting the civil rights of all those who live in, work in, and visit this City has made the New York City Commission on Human Rights the force it is today.
By vigorously enforcing the Law and fostering mutual understanding and respect among the City’s diverse communities, we have brought justice to thousands of individuals seeking resolutions to their issues and have educated many more about the Human Rights Law. Today, the Commission is a model for many other civil and human rights organizations around the nation and globe to follow.
During this administration, our aggressive approach to tackling the issues is evident in our achievements: eliminating a serious backlog of cases by the end of our first year; accelerating the pace with which cases are resolved; dramatically increasing the number of settlements and the total dollar amount of settlements; building programs and providing community services including disability equal access, immigrant employment rights, our school program as well as the popular peer mediation training for high school students, and mortgage counseling; producing multi-lingual booklets and info-cards and distributing them at meetings, events, schools and businesses; and highlighting our high profile cases and events in the media and ethnic press to inform individuals about the work of the Commission and the Human Rights Law.
Taking a creative approach has helped propel the Commission forward. We took on the City’s advertising giants, conducting an investigation into their hiring practices and negotiated historic agreements committing those firms to diversifying their workforce, particularly in the creative and managerial positions. In 2008 and the following two years, those agencies will report to the Commission their progress in meeting their hiring goals and making their workforce more reflective of the City’s diversity. We also successfully litigated a landmark employment discrimination case based on religion. That case, which enabled the complainant to return to work and wear his turban while directing traffic, impacted the entire Sikh community. We assisted in a Princeton University study that examined the uphill battle and disparate treatment young minority men face with or without criminal records when attempting to secure entry-level jobs in the City. And we reached millions of New Yorkers and visitors with a message of unity through a public awareness poster campaign displayed at bus shelters, phone kiosks, and the City’s Sanitation trucks.
In 2007, we continued with the same momentum that we started with in 2002.
We continued to target employment discrimination. In addition to our groundbreaking diversity agreements with 16 of the City’s largest ad firms in late 2006, we implemented a new testing program based on race and gender. Under this new program based on a Princeton University study the Commission assisted with, we sent out matched sets of testers (male and female Caucasians, African-Americans, and Latinos) who applied for the same jobs with equivalent résumés to over 300 locations throughout the City and referred nearly 15% of those tests to our Law Enforcement Bureau for investigation into possible discriminatory hiring practices by some of those employers.
Also in the area of employment discrimination, we successfully negotiated settlements on behalf of several individuals with arrest or conviction records who were refused employment, and we have similar cases currently under investigation. Today’s recidivism rate would drop precipitously if many of the formerly incarcerated were gainfully employed and not discriminated against.
We have also been aggressive in our equal access and disability efforts and, for the fifth year in a row, the Commission has successfully negotiated over 150 modifications - such as the installation of ramps and grab bars and the repairing of elevators - for individuals with disabilities.
Nearly all of these modifications were accomplished through pre-complaint intervention – resolving allegations of discrimination without filing a formal complaint with the Commission. This successful process assures a speedy resolution, often bringing immediate relief to many individuals and avoiding lengthy and costly litigation.
Our equal access work in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, continued where we negotiated modifications with building owners, and we recently targeted Washington Heights in upper Manhattan where there are also large numbers of elderly and disabled individuals and inaccessible buildings. Additionally, we worked with the City’s Department of Parks & Recreation to make our City’s beaches accessible to everyone with the installation of access mats. This enabled many individuals with disabilities use of the beaches last summer, some for the first time in their lives.
In October, we returned to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem to host the second in the Commission’s Civil Rights Public Lecture Series. Our keynote speaker was Roland G. Fryer, Jr., a prominent Harvard University economics professor who also serves as the NYC Department of Education’s Chief Equality Officer. He highlighted his efforts to narrow the ‘racial achievement gap,’ one of this country’s most pressing social concerns. The forum brought into focus the disparities that still exist and its effect on our society. Other speakers included: Christopher D. Cerf, Deputy Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education; Rev. C. Vernon Mason, CEO of the Fund for Community Leadership Development and CEO of Uth Turn; Dr. Edison O. Jackson, President of Medgar Evers College and a NYC Human Rights Commissioner; and Dr. Bruce Western, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Program in Inequality and Social Policy at Harvard University.
With a focus on education, our Human Rights Specialists continued to teach students about the Human Rights Law, Sexual Harassment, and Conflict Resolution. We are now in our fifth year training high school students to become peer mediators. The Peer Mediation Training Program provides students with a way to address and resolve their disputes before they escalate and has proven to be highly effective in reducing violence in the schools.
We are currently developing two ESOL curricula to deliver through the City’s three public library systems’ free adult literacy classes. The libraries offer immigrants a crucial entry point to community services, culture, and civic awareness. While improving their literacy, students will learn about the protections they have under the NYC Human Rights Law and federal anti-discrimination laws.
The Commission also established a Human Rights Fellowship Program in conjunction with the City’s Urban Fellows Program. We selected two recent college graduates from a diverse group of applicants and they began their one-year fellowship in September, assisting us with specific projects and programs.
As we look ahead, we will continue to focus on our proactive testing in employment and housing to root out violations of the Law. We are also planning the third in our Civil Rights Public Lecture Series and are working to lay the groundwork for a new museum. The NYC Civil Rights Museum would serve as an educational resource and gallery for all those wishing to understand the history and the impact of the Civil Rights Movement in New York City. It would also teach individuals about diversity and how much it has enriched this City.
I am grateful to Mayor Bloomberg for the opportunity to serve as Commissioner, advocating Human Rights on behalf of all the people of this City and its visitors.