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Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs 2016 Barbara Jordan National Forum (Feb. 25, 2016)

Thursday, February 25th, 2016

Good afternoon. Thank you, Michele [Deitch], for your kind words. I also want to thank Dean [Angela] Evans – and all of the students, faculty, and staff at the LBJ School of Public Affairs – for organizing this inspiring and energizing forum. And I want to thank Shirley Franklin, the former Mayor of Atlanta and now the Barbara Jordan Visiting Professor of Ethics and Political Values at the LBJ School, for joining us. Today presents an opportunity to honor the legacy of Barbara Jordan. But it also provides a chance to apply the lessons of her life to the defining civil rights challenges of our time.

In so many ways, the story of Barbara Jordan’s life mirrors the story of America itself. Born into the era of Jim Crow, Barbara Jordan felt the profound pain of racial inequality. But confronted with fierce opposition, she responded with firm optimism in our country’s capacity for progress. Time and again, she chose faith over fear. She merged courage with compassion. And she preached unity over division. From the Fifth Ward of Houston, to the United States Congress, Barbara Jordan taught us about the power of our democracy to balance the scales of justice. And she viewed government as the engine for change, calling it “our appointed mediator, prosecutor, defender – our means of guaranteeing our freedoms and protecting our frailties.”

Given the historic heights Barbara Jordan reached in her life, we could spend an entire day simply reciting her accomplishments. Yet I suspect she would prefer otherwise. I believe Barbara Jordan would urge us, together, to confront injustice, to build unity, and to drive progress. In communities across our country today, too many people – especially young people, and people of color – hear plenty about the promise of equal opportunity but see only the reality of inequality. They live in the face of inequality that threatens to derail their dreams for a brighter future. And each day, discrimination continues to stack the deck against them.

So as we discuss the challenges in our criminal justice system, we must also acknowledge the systemic inequalities that we see in other areas. Because discrimination in so many places – from the classroom, to the workforce, to the marketplace – perpetuates some of the inequalities that exist in our criminal justice system. And for those already living in poverty, a single incident – whether an arrest by the police or a fine by the court – can lead to a cycle of severe problems that ruin lives and tear apart families.

As someone who focuses on civil rights work, I see these problems every day. But I also see a country on the cusp of change. Across a wide range of political perspectives, policymakers and advocates have come together to bridge divides and bring criminal justice reform to the center stage.

At the Department of Justice, we firmly believe that our country needs, and deserves, a criminal justice system that more effectively protects our communities, more fairly treats our people, and more prudently spends our resources. But we also know that driving improvements in criminal justice requires a holistic approach. From our schools to our streets, too many vulnerable residents end up entering the criminal justice system, sometimes for no legitimate reason at all. And once they do, ineffective policies – from our courts to our jails – can leave them trapped inside for years. Throughout the Civil Rights Division – and across the entire Department of Justice – we continue to address these challenges with a multi-faceted approach.

At the front end, we can see these challenges with our school-to-prison pipeline. Too many of our children end up in the juvenile justice system without the rights our Constitution guarantees and the opportunities they deserve. They may suffer devastating consequences that stem from simply acting out in class. And suddenly they find themselves sitting at a detention hearing rather than a graduation ceremony.

In Meridian, Mississippi, a Civil Rights Division investigation found students suspended from school – and some later incarcerated in a juvenile detention facility – for the most mundane behavior: dress code violations like wearing the wrong color socks; flatulence in class; yelling at teachers; and leaving class for the bathroom without permission. These actions disproportionately harmed children of color and children with disabilities. And they did little to advance public safety. In response, the Justice Department reached several agreements to remedy discriminatory school discipline practices in and around Meridian. The department also reached agreements to address due process violations in school-based policing and in juvenile probation. Together, these agreements seek to ensure appropriate resolution – rather than escalation – of school incidents.

Eroding and fragmented trust in community-police relations also contributes to some of the issues that we see in our criminal justice system. And in communities across the country, the Civil Rights Division continues to advance constitutional policing that builds trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. A key part of our efforts involves working to reform local law enforcement agencies engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations, such as excessive force or racial profiling. The agreements that arise from these cases – court-enforceable, independently-monitored consent decrees – hold the potential to serve as models for reform around the country. These consent decrees – combined with the detailed recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing – can help police departments initiate dialogue, self-review, and meaningful reform before a critical incident occurs and before the Justice Department intervenes.

Over the past year, our nation has engaged in an unprecedented and robust dialogue about the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. As head of the Civil Rights Division, I have met with parents who lost children in tragic, officer-involved shootings; with youth who have lost faith in our justice system; and with vulnerable residents who feel humiliated in their encounters with police. And in the same cities, I have heard the frustration from courageous police officers who talk about how they’ve become first responders for a whole set of social problems, including mental illness; who speak about facing blame for policies they didn’t create; and who explain how the daily stress of their jobs takes a toll.

Make no mistake. The overwhelming majority of America’s police officers perform their jobs with honor, courage and distinction. They enter the police academy because of a genuine desire to serve their communities. And they deserve immense praise for keeping our streets and our families safe from harm. But when police officers do not follow the law or when police departments use unconstitutional policies or practices, it can profoundly harm community trust and public safety.

Last year, our report on the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department made headlines for exposing a system pervaded by racial bias. At nearly every stage of the system – from traffic stops, to searches, to arrests, to the use of force – we found that Ferguson’s law enforcement practices disproportionately harmed African-American residents. We found this disparate impact driven, in part, by racial bias. Some city officials attributed the disparity to their belief that African Americans lack “personal responsibility.” Other city officials routinely distinguished African Americans in Ferguson from the city’s “normal” residents or “regular” people.

Beyond racial bias, we also found another powerful and troubling dynamic at work: the city’s undue focus on policing as a means to generate revenue. We uncovered emails explicitly referencing the use of enforcement strategies “to fill the revenue pipeline” – without due consideration for whether officers could better protect the city by focusing on neighborhood policing, rather than debt collection. The amount of money coming from court fines and fees exploded, rising from almost $1.4 million in 2010, to a projected more than $3 million last year. We found the city issuing multiple citations with excessive fines and fees for minor violations. Fines like $302 for jaywalking; $427 for disturbing the peace; and $531 for allowing high grass and weeds to grow on your lawn.

And we found the inability of poor people to pay these fines and fees leading to multiple arrests, jail time, and payments that far exceeded the cost of the original ticket. These practices left a devastating impact on poor residents. In addition to residents, Ferguson police officers also expressed concern about the undue focus on law enforcement as a vehicle for revenue generation. One officer questioned why the police department didn’t allow residents to use their limited means to fix broken headlights – and actually benefit public safety – rather than pay fines to fill the city’s coffers.

As we demonstrated with our lawsuit earlier this month, the Justice Department will continue its vigorous efforts to ensure that Ferguson’s law enforcement practices comply with the Constitution, while serving the entire community and supporting public safety. Ferguson residents and police officers deserve nothing less.

But we know that this problem of excessive fines and fees extends well beyond Ferguson. In fact, the problem exists in many of the country’s 6,500 municipal courts. At a conference organized by the Justice Department and the White House last December, we heard court leaders express surprise, and even outrage, that such practices had become routine. Many jurisdictions have already changed their practices of imposing excessive fines and fees on their residents. And in the coming months, the department will continue its efforts to help other communities implement critical reforms in this area.

The Civil Rights Division engages in a wide range of efforts to combat unlawful policies that result in punishing people for their poverty. Our involvement in an Idaho case last year provides a key example. According to media reports, Boise resident Janet Bell became homeless more than a decade ago. She lost part of her left arm from an infection she caught living on the streets, an infection that nearly killed her. When the city began issuing her multiple citations simply for camping on the street, she had no money to pay them and no other place to go. The police arrested Janet, along with several other homeless individuals, for violating Boise ordinances that criminalize sleeping or camping in public.

Last summer, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case. We made a simple argument. Because every human being must sleep at some time and in some place, punishing a person for sleeping in public – when they have nowhere else to go – criminalizes homelessness. It violates the Eighth Amendment. Beyond the constitutional issues, criminalizing homelessness also constitutes poor public policy. It fails to give homeless people the resources they need to get on their feet and find stable housing. And it does nothing to break the cycle of poverty.

The disproportionate harm that policy choices visit on people in poverty also extends to our courts. When poor people lack adequate legal representation, too often it leads to a chain of events that traps them in the criminal justice system. Because even more than half a century after the Supreme Court ruled that a fair trial requires the right to counsel, too many poor defendants still face barriers to justice. And in too many communities, insufficient funding for indigent defense can lead to situations where even well-intentioned and capable public defenders serve, in effect, as attorneys in name only.

Take the story of Syracuse resident, James Adams, one of the plaintiffs in a case called Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York. After he allegedly stole sticks of deodorant from a Rite Aid drugstore, police arrested him on charges of felony robbery and burglary. He faced up to 14 years in prison. With bail set at $2,500, which he couldn’t afford, James sat in jail for more than three months. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), he never saw his attorney outside of open court. And at one of his court appearances, the attorney didn’t even bother to attend.

The Justice Department filed a statement of interest to argue that denial of one’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel can result from a range of factors, including a lack of resources, high workloads, and under-staffed public defenders’ offices. Just weeks after our filing, New York reached a comprehensive settlement agreement with the plaintiffs to implement transformative reforms to its public defense system across five counties in the state.

In another critical area, in certain pretrial detention systems around the country, bail practices end up penalizing defendants simply because they cannot afford to pay for their release. Of course, sometimes we must use pretrial detention to protect the safety of our communities. But bail or bond systems that fail to account for indigence can result in detention based on wealth, not on valid concerns such as public safety or securing defendants’ appearance in court.

Consider the story of Clanton, Alabama, resident, Christy Dawn Varden – a 41-year-old mother of two who relied on food stamps and struggled with mental and physical health issues. After police arrested her in a Walmart parking lot on shoplifting and other misdemeanor charges last year, she couldn’t afford to pay $2,000 in bail to get released. The court said she had to wait in jail for one week before seeing a judge. Shortly after she sued the City of Clanton, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case. We argued that using money bail to incarcerate someone solely because he or she cannot afford to pay violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Earlier this year, the City of Clanton agreed to release most misdemeanor defendants without forcing them to pay bail.

Beyond the constitutional issues at stake, these troubling bail practices also constitute poor public policy. Research demonstrates a compelling case regarding the impact of pretrial incarceration, without regard for one’s ability to pay, on public safety. In addition, pretrial incarceration that results solely from one’s inability to pay can have a devastating impact on other areas of one’s life. It can leave ripple effects throughout struggling communities. And it can cause defendants to lose their jobs or their health benefits as they struggle to provide for their families.

The division also works to protect the civil rights of inmates in our prisons and jails. We continue to focus on the particular harms that solitary confinement and other forms of restrictive housing can cause for vulnerable populations, including prisoners with serious mental illness and juveniles. In 2014, a Justice Department investigation found Pennsylvania prisoners with serious mental illness enduring prolonged solitary confinement under harsh conditions that caused serious harm, including severe mental deterioration, psychosis and acts of self-harm. More than 70 percent of documented suicide attempts over a 17-month period occurred in the system’s solitary confinement units.

Imagine the scene we discovered in Pennsylvania for prisoners with serious mental illness held in solitary confinement. They spent nearly their entire day in a cell about the size of the average American bathroom. It contained a thin plastic mattress on top of a metal bed frame. A metal sink, metal toilet, metal desk and metal seat also filled the cell. Some cells included a small exterior-facing window, but many did not. Prisoners got limited out-of-cell time. Five times per week, they spent one hour in an empty and caged outdoor pen. Three times per week they took a 15-minute shower. Before they could leave their cells, the prisoners had to first submit to a strip search. And when prisoners did go to their out-of-cell activity, correctional officers transported them by shackling their arms and legs together. These conditions had disastrous effects.

Just last year, the state reached a comprehensive settlement in another case to implement a wide range of reforms. These reforms include extended periods of out of cell time for prisoners with mental illness and improved mental health training for corrections staff.

Last month, President Obama announced that he would adopt a series of Justice Department recommendations to reform the use of restrictive housing – including solitary confinement – in our federal prison system. This marked a critical, and indeed historic, step of progress. The department’s report concluded that corrections officials should limit their use of solitary confinement by employing it rarely, fairly and reasonably. The president directed the federal prison system – among other measures – to end solitary confinement for juveniles; divert inmates with serious mental illness to secure mental health units; scale back the use of restrictive housing for disciplinary purposes; and discourage the placement of inmates in any form of restrictive housing during the final six months of their prison terms. The department’s report also set forth more than 50 guiding principles, or best practices, designed to serve as a roadmap for reform for state and local systems around the country.

Of course, corrections officials face dangerous and complex challenges. In some cases, restrictive housing is important to protect the safety of inmates, corrections staff and the public. But we must change our approach. We must view solitary confinement as a last resort to ensure staff and inmate safety rather than a first response to inflict punishment.

The stories I highlighted today share a troubling trend. On those occasions when the criminal justice system ends up discriminating against people because of the size of their wallet, the color of their skin, or the condition of their mental health, it not only raises serious constitutional concerns. It also traps the most vulnerable among us in a cycle of perpetual inequality. It fails to advance public safety. And it undermines the legitimacy of our justice system.

We cannot fix these problems by working in silos. Real reform requires a holistic approach. It demands collaboration. And it urges us to bridge divides in pursuit of our common goal: equality, justice, and fairness for all people – regardless of your money, or your race, or your disability status.

Barbara Jordan spoke passionately about the “national community,” and “spirit of harmony,” that bind us together. Yet as she reminded us, and as this forum highlights, “a spirit of harmony will survive in America only if each of us remembers… when self-interest and bitterness seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.”

At the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, on the back of Barbara Jordan’s headstone we find these simple words: “Teacher Jordan.” From public office to private life, Barbara Jordan continued to teach. She taught us about the power of our democracy to level the playing field. And she taught us that no matter the magnitude of the task, our country can rise to the challenge – so long as we remain aware of our past, optimistic about the present, and confident in our future.

Today, let us not only remember the life of Barbara Jordan. Let us draw inspiration from her legacy to tackle the civil rights challenges of our time. And let us, together, seize the promise of this moment to shape our country into a land filled with freedom, anchored in fairness, and governed by justice for all.

Thank you.

Quality Solutions, LLC to Pay $22,500 to Settle EEOC Pregnancy Discrimination Suit (Feb. 23, 2016)

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

Company Violated Federal Law by Failing to Hire Pregnant Applicant, Federal Agency Charged

ATLANTA – Quality Solutions, LLC, a Dalton, Ga., staffing company, will pay $22,500 and furnish other relief to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.
According to EEOC’s lawsuit, Kayla Medeiros sought a temporary job assignment through Quality Solutions. Around Dec. 19, 2014, Quality Solutions called Medeiros for a job opening. EEOC charged in its lawsuit that when Medeiros responded to Quality Solutions indicating her interest in taking the job, a company manager told her that he could not send her for the assignment because she was pregnant. The manager indicated that the job was in a warehouse where Medeiros could get hurt.

Such alleged conduct violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which is a part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and which prohibits employers from subjecting women to discrimination due to pregnancy. EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Rome Division (Case No. 4:15-cv-00176) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The consent decree settling the suit was entered by the court on Feb. 18, 2016. In addition to paying $22,500 to Medeiros, Quality Solutions agreed to provide equal employment opportunity training to its employees and to post anti-discrimination notices at its facilities. The two-year decree also requires Quality Solutions to report to EEOC all complaints it receives of pregnancy discrimination and how it responds to those complaints.

“An employer cannot make hiring decisions based on what it thinks is in the best interests of a pregnant applicant,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Lynette Barnes. “Every woman has the right to make decisions about her health and ability to work when she is pregnant.”

EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about EEOC is available on the agency’s website at www.eeoc.gov.

Office of Disability Employment Policy Newsletter (Feb. 19, 2016)

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

For more information, go to www.dol.gov/odep.

Department of Labor Releases Section 188 WIOA Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Regulations NPRM Discussion Video

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center (CRC) has announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) updating the Section 188 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Nondiscrimination and Equal Opportunity Regulations (29 CFR Part 38). The proposed rule would increase equality of opportunity for the millions of job applicants, training participants, program beneficiaries, and funding recipients’ employees who interact with the workforce development system each year. This video explains Section 188, highlights the important changes proposed in the NPRM, and solicits comments from the public. The comment period for the NPRM closes on March 28, 2016.

LEAD Center Publishes Policy Brief on Section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act: Summary Review of the DOL Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, from a Disability Perspective

On January 26, 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) implementing the nondiscrimination and equal opportunity provisions of Section 188 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Section 188 of WIOA prohibits discrimination under Title I because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, political affiliation or belief. This policy brief from the LEAD Center provides a summary of the NPRM from a disability perspective.

Fourth Employment First Technical Brief Issued by LEAD Center

The Office of Disability Employment Policy and the LEAD Center have released the fourth Employment First Technical Brief. The four-part series is for anyone working to implement Employment First in their state, region or agency. “Technical Brief #4: Federal Resources Available to Support State Employment First Efforts” provides state governments and external stakeholders with information about federal funding resources and technical assistance available to further state Employment First systems change efforts.

ODEP Launches State Policy Web Page

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has launched a new web page on State Policy. The page focuses on ODEP’s efforts to influence state-level policy impacting the employment of people with disabilities. Programs highlighted include Employment First, the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED), and States as Model Employers.

Latest EARN Newsletter Now Available

The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) has issued its February 17 newsletter, featuring information on building the talent pipeline in the Department of Defense, Disability.gov’s search for stories on how people have used the website, the employment of veterans, future webinars, and more.

FTA Continues ADA Circular Training in Webinar Series (Feb. 20, 2016)

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

FTA’s Office of Civil Rights continues its series of webinars that provide an in-depth look at ADA requirements and how the ADA Circular addresses them. Join us for Webinar 4 – The ADA and Demand Responsive Service Requirements – at 2-3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, March 2. We will discuss types of demand responsive service, equivalent service, monitoring, and more. This webinar covers material from Chapters 2 and 7 of the FTA ADA Circular. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions.

The ADA Circular webinar series is designed for FTA grantees. Because attendance space is limited, we request that each agency register for a single spot. Note: this registration link is only for Webinar 4. Registration links for future webinars will be sent out separately. You can view past webinars on our Civil Rights Training Materials page.

ODEP Business Sense – February 2016 – Meeting the Needs of Employees During and After Pregnancy (Feb. 2016)

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

If it feels like the stork is paying more and more visits to women in your workplace, you might be on to something. Research from the Pew Research Center indicates that a higher share of women who are pregnant are continuing to work. They’re also working longer into their pregnancies and returning to work much sooner after.

While pregnancy can be a joyous and exciting time, it can also present challenges at work for women who may experience limitations or complications. As a result, women who continue working during pregnancy may require job accommodations during and/or after giving birth.

Now, navigating these issues and solving pregnancy-related accommodation needs is a little bit easier, thanks to a free resource from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), titled Accommodation Ideas for Employees Who Are Pregnant. This guide addresses employer responsibilities under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and provides an overview of accommodations that might be useful for employees who are pregnant or nursing, addressing everything from flexible schedules to restroom access.

In the publication, JAN points out that pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA, however many pregnancy-related conditions are disabilities that an employer may have to accommodate. Furthermore, pregnancy affects women in different ways. Some experience no, or very little, impact on their ability to work, while others may experience issues such as fatigue, sickness, pain, restrictions in lifting, or the need to eat and drink frequently. Pregnancy and childbirth can also exacerbate existing medical impairments.

Whatever the case, being prepared for these temporary workplace needs, and expressing your company’s commitment to meeting them, are fundamental in fostering an inclusive workplace — one where all employees feel comfortable requesting the supports they need to perform their jobs and deliver for their employers (before delivering for real).

For more information, go to www.dol.gov/odep.

EEOC Releases Fiscal Year 2015 Enforcement and Litigation Data Retaliation, Race Discrimination and Harassment Persist; Disability Charges Increase (Feb. 2016)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today released detailed breakdowns of the 89,385 charges of workplace discrimination that the agency received in fiscal year 2015. Retaliation charges increased by nearly 5 percent and continue to be the leading concern raised by workers across the country. Disability charges increased by 6 percent from last year and are the third largest category of charges filed.

EEOC resolved 92,641 charges in fiscal year 2015, and secured more than $525 million for victims of discrimination in private sector and state and local government workplaces through voluntary resolutions and litigation. Learn more about our 2015 agency accomplishments.

“Over the past year, EEOC removed barriers to hire and obtained relief for thousands of people facing retaliation, unfair pay, harassment, and other forms of discrimination,” said EEOC Chair Jenny Yang. “At the same time, we demonstrated our strong commitment to working with employers to voluntarily resolve charges of discrimination by achieving the highest mediation and conciliation success rates in our history.”

The year-end data shows that retaliation again was the most frequently filed charge of discrimination, with 39,757 charges, making up 45 percent of all private sector charges filed with EEOC. The agency is currently seeking public input on its proposed update of enforcement guidance addressing retaliation and related issues as part of its commitment to inform the public about the Commission’s interpretation of the law and promote voluntary compliance. Preserving access to the legal system, which includes retaliatory actions, is a national priority for EEOC.

The charge numbers show the following breakdowns by bases alleged:

Retaliation: 39,757 (44.5% of all charges filed)
Race: 31,027 (34.7%)
Disability: 26,968 (30.2%)
Sex: 26,396 (29.5%)
Age: 20,144 (22.5%)
National Origin: 9,438 (10.6%)
Religion: 3,502 (3.9%)
Color: 2,833 (3.2%)
Equal Pay Act: 973 (1.1%)
Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act: 257 (0.3%)
These percentages add up to more than 100 because some charges allege multiple bases.

Charges raising harassment allegations-which span industries and affect our nation’s most vulnerable workers-made up nearly 28,000 charges, or 31 percent. Preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach is also a national priority for EEOC. Employees claimed harassment in charges based on race, age, disability, religion, national origin and sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. To address this pressing issue, EEOC launched a Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace in March 2015. Co-chaired by Commissioners Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, the task force will examine the various forms of workplace harassment and identify and promote strategies to prevent it.

The agency filed 142 merits lawsuits last year, up from 133 the previous year. The majority of the lawsuits filed alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by suits under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This included 100 individual lawsuits and 42 lawsuits involving multiple victims of discriminatory policies, of which 16 were systemic. Legal staff resolved 155 lawsuits alleging discrimination.

The fiscal year ran from Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015. EEOC enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Further information about EEOC is available at www.eeoc.gov.

Vail Condo Association Will Pay Over $1 Million to Settle EEOC National Origin Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Management Company Ignored Complaints of Attempted Rape and Threats of Deportation, Then Fired Employees for Complaining, Federal Agency Charged (Feb. 2016)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

DENVER – Vail Run Community Resort Association, Inc., a condominium complex in Vail, Colo., and its management company, Global Hospitality Resorts, Inc., will pay $1,020,000 as part of the settlement of a sexual harassment, national origin discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

EEOC’s suit charged that Vail Run Resort violated federal law by allow­ing a housekeeping manager, Omar Quezada, to sexually harass Mexican female employees, including attempted rape. EEOC further alleged the defendants retaliated against men and women who complained about the harassment to management and the owner.

According to EEOC’s suit, Quezada repeatedly spoke about sex, propositioned female employees, showed them graphic sexual pictures on his phone and groped and physically assaulted his victims, including attempted rape. Quezada targeted Mexican immigrants who were particularly vulnerable, threatening them with job loss and deportation if they refused his advances, complained about him, or went to the police.

When workers nevertheless complained to management, they were met with anger and indif­ference, according to EEOC allegations. EEOC said William Fleischer, Vail Run’s general manager, and the companies never undertook an internal investiga­tion after the complaints, made no effort to reduce Quezada’s supervisorial powers, and refused to discipline him.

EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Vail Run Resort Community Association, Inc. d/b/a Vail Run Resort, et al., Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-01592-RPM) in U.S. District Court for Colorado after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

The same victims also sought help from the Colorado Civil Rights Division (CCRD), the local agency in charge of enforcing state anti-discrimination laws. CCRD conducted the initial investigation and made an administrative finding in favor of the two victims. When it was determined that there were additional victims, the case was transferred to EEOC, which did further investigation, issued its own cause determination and ultimately filed a lawsuit.

“We are pleased that the critical investigative work that the Colorado Civil Rights Division conducted produced such important results for the State of Colorado and the nation,” said Rufina A. Hernandez, director of the CCRD. “The partnership between EEOC and CCRD not only provides protection to all workers — regardless of national origin — but ensures that systemic issues of sexual harassment of immigrant workers will be aggressively enforced.”

In addition to requiring the company to pay monetary damages to the former employees, the consent decree settling the suit provides for a Spanish-speaking monitor for up to five years to oversee the decree’s implementation, which includes substantial semi-annual training for managers on sexual harassment and the responsibilities of managers once a report of sexual harassment is made. The monitor will also routinely interview employees to determine if any discrimination exists and review all emp­loyee complaints of discrimination or harassment. The decree also requires Vail Run Resorts to translate its equal employment opportunity policies into Spanish and provide semi-annual reports to EEOC identifying complaints of retaliation or discrimination. The rehiring of Quezada is also expressly prohibited.

EEOC General Counsel P. David Lopez said, “This is the latest in a series of enforcement efforts demonstrating the Commission’s resolve to enforce the anti-discrimination laws on behalf of all who live in this country and work for an employer covered by the law. This includes those living and working in the shadows who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination.” EEOC has also settled other cases dealing with national origin discrimination, including Mountain King, Suffolk Laundry and Moreno Farms.

EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill added, “It is increasingly important to protect these socially marginalized communities against discrimination, extortion and exploitation.”

The consulate general of the United Mexican States in Denver and EEOC’s Denver office have a memorandum of understanding, which establishes a continuing partnership and commitment to increase compliance and awareness of workplace laws to all Mexican nationals in the United States. As a result of this partnership, the Mexican consulate assisted EEOC in the case.

EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers, including undocumented immigrants, is one of six national priorities identified in EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan. EEOC is a certifying agency for U nonimmigrant status (U visa) petitions and assists victims of trafficking and violence to obtain those petitions. Further information about EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.

Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Hate Crime for Threatening to Firebomb Two Mosques and Shoot Worshippers (Feb. 2016)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

The Justice Department announced today that Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, pleaded guilty to a hate crime in the Middle District of Florida for calling two mosques located in Pinellas County, Florida, and threatening to firebomb the mosques and shoot their congregants.

Schnitzler pleaded guilty to obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs for making the violent threats. As part of his plea, he admitted that on Nov. 13, 2015, he intentionally obstructed members of the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County from practicing their religion when he left voicemail messages threatening the safety of the mosques’ congregants. Schnitzler admitted that his threats were prompted by the terrorist attacks in Paris. Among other things, Schnitzler also admitted that in one of the voicemails he threatened to “personally have a militia” report to one of the mosques and “firebomb you, shoot whoever is there on sight in the head. I don’t care if they’re [expletive] two years old or a hundred.”

As a result of the above threats, both mosques requested increased law-enforcement presence at their locations and took extra safety precautions for congregants.

“Our Constitution and laws guarantee all people – regardless of where they worship – the right to live free from violence and discrimination,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Criminal threats of violence against people or places of worship have no place in our society, and as proven today, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute those who commit religion-based hate crimes.”

“The right to worship as one chooses, free from threats and intimidation, is one of the core principles upon which our great nation was founded,” said U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to taking whatever action is necessary to vindicate this important First Amendment right.”

Sentencing for the defendant will be scheduled at a later date. Schnitzler faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The FBI is investigating the case with the assistance of the St. Petersburg Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel George and Daniel Irick of the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorney Gabriel Davis of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section are prosecuting the case.

Justice Department Settles Lawsuit Against the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, to Enforce the Employment Rights of a Marine Corps Reservist (Feb. 2016)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

The Department of Justice today announced a settlement which is subject to District Court approval with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Somerville, Massachusetts, resolving claims that the city violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) when it failed to re-employ U.S. Marine Corps Reservist Sean Keane at the level he should have been in following his multiple military deployments, including tours of duty to Afghanistan.

Keane, a firefighter for the city of Somerville since 1989, was called to active duty military service from April 2, 2004, to Sept. 25, 2013. Following his return from service, Keane took a lieutenant’s make-up promotional exam to replace the regular administration of the examination that he missed because of his military service. Keane received the highest score on the test, which placed him at the top of the promotional list, ahead of two firefighters who had already been promoted in July 2013. When Keane was eventually promoted in October 2014, he requested that his promotion be effective as of July 2013, the date he would have been promoted had he not been away on military service. He was denied the July 2013 promotion date and, as a result, was deemed ineligible to take a make-up exam for a captain’s position. Subject to certain limitations, USERRA requires that service members who leave their civilian jobs to serve in the military be reemployed by their civilian employers in the positions that they would have held if their employment had not been interrupted by military service. Under circumstances like those here, federal law also requires that a servicemember be reemployed in a position of comparable seniority, pay and status so that no opportunities for advancement or promotion are adversely affected by military service.

“The great sacrifice of Americans who serve in our Marine Corps should never be a detriment to their civilian careers,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces and we will continue to hold employers who violate their rights accountable.”

“As a service member in Afghanistan, Sean Keane has served his country with admirable distinction, honor and integrity,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Courageous men and women like Lieutenant Keane, who answer America’s call to defend our freedom, deserve to reclaim their civilian jobs without undue impediment when they return home. We commend the state and local officials who worked cooperatively to resolve this claim under USERRA.”

“Reservists who are called into active duty to serve their country make many sacrifices including time away from their jobs,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of the District of Massachusetts. “In applying USERRA’s protections, we seek to restore servicemembers to the promotions and pay they have rightfully earned. We are committed to ensuring that those who serve our country are not disadvantaged because of their military service, and are encouraged by the City’s prompt action in fulfilling its legal obligations with respect to Mr. Keane.”

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the city agreed to pay more than $15,000 as back pay. The agreement also provides that Keane will be permitted to make-up a missed examination for promotion to captain. Based on his score, Keane will be as eligible for a promotion as others who took the examination on its regular schedule.

This case stems from a referral by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), following an investigation by the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The case is being handled by the Employment Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Massachusetts, who work collaboratively with the DOL to protect the jobs and benefits of Reserve and National Guard servicemembers upon their return to civilian life.

The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Driscoll and Jennifer Serafyn of the District of Massachusetts, along with Special Litigation Counsel Andrew Braniff and Trial Attorneys Jeremy Monteiro and Taryn Null of the Civil Rights Division’s Employment Litigation Section.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has given a high priority to the enforcement of service members’ rights under USERRA. Additional information about USERRA can be found on the Justice Department’s websites at www.usdoj.gov/crt/emp and www.servicemembers.gov, as well as on the Labor Department’s website at www.dol.gov/vets/programs/userra/main.htm.

U.S. Department of Education Budget for FY 2017 (Feb. 2016)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

President Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget, unveiled today, reflects the Administration’s ongoing efforts to ensure equity and excellence in education, expand opportunity, and ensure all children can achieve their full potential through a high-quality, well-rounded education that prepares them to thrive in college, careers, and life.

The President’s budget request for education also supports the implementation of the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and aligns with critical priorities of Acting Secretary of Education John King and the Department.

This budget builds on our continued efforts to invest in education – from high-quality early learning to making college more affordable and accessible – and improving outcomes for all students.

As you know, we’ve made important progress over recent years, but there’s still more work to do. That’s why we want you to know that the President’s budget focuses on:
· increasing equity and excellence in education, from preschool through college
· providing support for teachers and school leaders
· promoting access, affordability, and completion in higher education
· increasing socioeconomic diversity in schools

There’s also a commitment to using and developing evidence and data to maximize results for students and schools, and you, the taxpayer.

This budget reflects the President’s strong belief that education is a vital investment in America’s economic competitiveness, in its communities, and in its people. Learn more about the 2017 budget.