I finish my 7th year here at the Commission, I look back with pride
at all that we have accomplished. Since 2002 -- through vigorous
enforcement of the City Human Rights Law -- we have brought justice
to thousands of individuals seeking resolutions to their issues
of discrimination. We have also educated tens of thousands of people
about the law and have been aggressive in informing individuals
about a recent amendment to our law that adds a new protected class.
We have served New Yorkers and visitors effectively, efficiently,
and compassionately, and our commitment to fighting discrimination
is reflected in our achievements.
2008, the Commission issued its first of three reports on the progress
of advertising agencies to diversify their upper ranks, which stems
from our historic diversity agreements in September 2006 with 16
of the City’s top ad firms. I have always believed that it is the
role of a government agency, such as the Commission, to bring attention
to the issues and start the conversation. I am happy to say that
our efforts have caught the attention of the NAACP and a well-noted
civil rights attorney, who are now also focused on the issue. Only
by making these companies conduct their business in the light of
day can we ensure an end to their discriminatory practices.
During 2008, we conducted over 200 tests as part of our employment
discrimination testing program. The program, based on race and gender,
sends out matched pairs of testers (Whites and African-Americans
or Latinos) who apply for the same jobs with similar résumés. Approximately
10% of those cases were referred to our Law Enforcement Bureau for
investigation of discriminatory hiring practices. To date, this
program has resulted in the collection of fines totaling $40,000.
We have also seen a 250% increase in housing discrimination complaints
with the addition of a new amendment to the City Human Rights Law
earlier in the year. The amendment adds “lawful source of income”
as a new protected class in housing.
In the wake of this nation’s recent financial collapse, due in large
part to sub prime mortgages, we have had an increase in requests
for counseling services. As a result, we expanded our Mortgage Counseling
program, providing direct mortgage counseling to over 300 clients
citywide. We are the only City agency certified by Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) to provide such housing counseling services.
We have maintained our aggressive anti-discrimination efforts for
the elderly and disabled communities. For the sixth year in a row,
we successfully negotiated over 150 modifications -- such as the
installation of ramps and grab bars -- for individuals with disabilities.
This brings the total number of modifications to nearly 1,000 during
this administration. Most 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.
Similar to our equal access efforts in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn,
where we successfully negotiated modifications with 24 building
owners who installed ramps and lifts at entrances and lobbies, making
those buildings accessible to over 3,500 tenants, we have now focused
our attention on Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, surveying the accessibility
of residential and commercial buildings in that community. Once
that survey is complete, we’ll move swiftly to target those buildings
where the lack of accessibility has a negative impact on residents.
In 2008, we expanded our Immigrant Employment Rights Program. In
addition to speaking to employers, immigrant employees, and immigrants
at new citizenship ceremonies about their rights and responsibilities
under the Human Rights Law, we have also been providing English
language learners with vital information about the NYC Human Rights
Law and federal anti-discrimination laws, while helping them learn
English. We developed two 3-hour intermediate-level lessons that
we provide at literacy classes at public libraries, reaching those
individuals who are likely to experience employment discrimination
due to their national origin or citizenship status.
In April, we returned to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black
Culture in Harlem to host “E Pluribus Unum: Reconciling Diversity
and Community in the 21st Century” -- the Commission’s third in
a series of Civil Rights Public Lectures. Our keynote speaker was
Dr. Robert D. Putnam, best-selling author of Bowling Alone, the
Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University,
and Visiting Professor and Director of the Manchester Graduate Summer
Program in Social Change, University of Manchester (UK). Dr. Putnam’s
remarks focused on social capital and how changing populations and
ethnic diversity continually shape and reshape trust, identities,
social ties and civic engagement. Other speakers at the event included:
Dr. Katherine Newman, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs
at Princeton University; Rev. C. Vernon Mason, CEO of the Fund for
Community Leadership Development and CEO of Uth Turn; Richard E.
Green, Chief Executive/President of the Crown Heights Youth Collective,
Inc; Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director of the New York Immigration
Coalition; and Rabbi Robert Kaplan, Director of Cause-NY/ Jewish
Community Relations Council. Our Civil Rights Public Lecture series
ties in with various aspects of our Human Rights Law.
These are just a few of our 2008 highlights.
For 2009, we will expand our successful Employment Testing program
and our popular Immigrant Employment Rights project. We are planning
to launch a successful pilot program -- Discrimination in Employment
and the Workplace -- as a full-scale Commission program that will
provide information on employment rights and discrimination in the
workplace - targeting workforce development agencies and other back-to-work
programs. We will also focus additional anti-discrimination efforts
in employment for the disabled community. And in early 2009, our
Queens field office will have completed its long-awaited move to
153-01 Jamaica Avenue, Jamaica, NY, making services more accessible
to community members.
We will also continue the work we have begun on our NYC Civil Rights
Museum, which will highlight this City’s prominent role in the national
Civil Rights Movement and present the oral histories of some of
those involved in the Movement while significantly enhancing the
Commission’s comprehensive antidiscrimination efforts. The Commission
has filmed 10 interviews of notable individuals who struggled for
equality in the midst of turbulent racial climates. When we complete
the interviews and editing, we will present them online where 8
million individuals from around the globe who visit the official
NYC government website annually, especially young people who receive
much of their information through digital media, will learn about
the deleterious effects of discrimination and the positive lessons
that can be drawn from it.
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. That
commitment remains the same today as the day I started in early
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.