Time’s Up - Let us Root out Discrimination & Inequality in our local Human Right’s Agency

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Time’s Up - Let us Root out Discrimination & Inequality in our local Human Right’s Agency

It is the responsibility of our State legislatures to take proactive measures to identify and address rooted discrimination within our State.  In doing so, we must ensure not only the social, but also the economic needs of the most marginalized individuals within our state to ensure fairness and equality.  Simply put, those who have suffered harassment, sexual harassment or any other form of discrimination must be guaranteed the right to fair and equal access to advocacy and representation before our state Commission on Human Rights (CHRO).

The Time’s Up Act wholly ignores equality!  

The Time’s up bill is classified as “The Largest Overhaul in Modern Connecticut History of Sexual Harassment Laws.”  This proposed bill at first glance looks promising, but the bill fails to acknowledge the simple fact that approximately 80% of the claims filed at the CHRO in 2016, were filed by minorities, the very same indigent individuals whose lack of money pads the poverty statistics in this state.  While this present plea, which we call the “US TOO” movement - is not suggesting that the Time’s Up bill is not applaudable, as clearly it is.  BUT we ask that you also acknowledge and correct that fact that the bill, as presented is void of equality, justice and equal access. 

The Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities

 The CHRO is a state agency.  Its mission is to “eliminate discrimination through civil and human rights law enforcement and to establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons within the state through advocacy and education.”  However, over the course of the last several years, the CHRO has failed to abide by its mission.  

Standing up and speaking out as a victim is an extremely emotional and scary thing to do and nobody should have to stand alone.  Up until last year all victims of discrimination had the right to fair and equal representation before the CHRO.  They could appear before the Commission and be represented by an attorney, an advocate, a friend or family member.  Not only were these rights inherent as outlined in the CHRO’s rules and regulations, but they were consistent with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s rules and regulations.  However, last year in blatant disregard for past practices, in an attempt at what can only be classified as an act of self preservation, the CHRO decided on their own accord to ban all non-attorney individuals from appearing and representing before it on behalf of victims of discrimination – despite not having the legal authority to do so!  I know, because in March of last year, I was served with a legal cease and desist order initiated by the CHRO and I was banned from appearing on behalf of victims of discrimination before this state agency. 

This clearly uninformed decision leaves the majority of discrimination victims standing alone. Yet, inexcusably, the defending companies continue to be allowed to have a representative of their own choosing, even if said representative is a non-attorney – creating what can only be classified an act of inequality.    Furthermore, the attorney general’s office is allowed to send a non-attorney state employee to defend against claims brought against the state and the majority of Investigators at the CHRO are non-attorney investigators.  That is simply because the CHRO is nothing more than a state agency tasked with informally investigating the “facts” of a claim of discrimination to make a “reasonable person determination” on if discrimination “likely” occurred.  There are no legal briefs and no legal conclusions made at the informal level of the CHRO.   If after a reasonable “finding of facts” a claim is deemed proper for a legal conclusion of law, then and only then is the CHRO granted the authority to formally present a claim of discrimination for a legal conclusion.  Yet, over the last year or two, the CHRO, even at the informal level, has begun to deem itself a legal forum – wholly excluding victims of discrimination fair and equal access to proper representation and adjudication of their discrimination claims.

The majority of individuals bringing forth claims of discrimination before the CHRO, also have faced an unjust discharge from their job. They have no income.  They are scared.  They are feeling hopeless.  They are told by the CHRO if they cannot afford legal counsel, they must go through the CHRO process on their own.  These actions by the CHRO have unequivocally enforced regulations that discriminate against those same victims of discrimination that they are meant to protect.  This blatantly unfair treatment leaves many minorities, disabled individuals, elderly individuals, low income workers and jobless individuals asking: “What about Us?”  Recently I spoke with a 19 year old female who was sexually harassed by the owner of the business she worked for.  She couldn’t afford an attorney and was too scared to bring forth her sexual harassment claim by herself, she didn’t feel she was emotionally capable of doing so. As not only an advocate, but as a mother of a 21 year old daughter, I was outraged that this young lady was left to feel alone and forgotten.  Even more daunting is that this young lady could not turn to our own state CHRO unless she wanted to go through the process alone.  She filed her claims with the EEOC where she could be guaranteed the right to advocacy.  The “TIME’S UP BILL” in its present form is inadequate and inconsequential when victims such as this young lady, are not provided with a proper avenue for advocacy, support and resolution by our own state human rights agency.

Disabled and can’t self-advocate?  Elderly, with only a social security check as a means of income?  Sexually harassed, scared and feeling alone?  It takes courage to stand up and speak out, but nobody should have to do so alone!  The people of Connecticut should not have to look to the federal EEOC to file their claims in Boston, Massachusetts in order to be afforded an advocate of their choosing.  The EEOC does not only allow an advocate of a victim’s own choosing, but goes one step further and allows any advocate to file on behalf of any individual who has been the subject of a discriminatory act.  This ensures that all individuals, no matter their - ability, education level, income, race, disability, gender or age, have fair and equal protection!   

Our legislature has introduced the “largest overhaul in Modern Connecticut History of Sexual Harassment Laws” yet, unknowingly, it is wholly ignorant of the basic foundation of equal rights. Failing to ensure proper avenues and resources for all victims of discrimination and inadvertently affords the CHRO the ability to continue in their discriminatory actions.  More concerning is the fact that the current Time’s Up Bill includes the following provisions to grant the CHRO further unsupervised authority to:

●        “adopt, publish, amend and rescind regulations consistent with and to effectuate the provisions of this chapter; and

●        establish rules of practice to govern, expedite and effectuate the procedures set forth in this chapter.”

Call to Action! 

This is a call to action directed at both our state representatives and state senators to root out all discrimination in the State of Connecticut for “Us Too!”  All victims of discrimination have the right to fairness, equality and justice before our local Human Rights Commission because we matter too!  Fairness, equality, and advocacy for Us Too!  We urge our State Senators to amend the “Time’s Up Bill” to be all inclusive and mandate that all victims of discrimination are afforded the right to equal access to advocacy and a representative of their own choosing before our State Human Rights Commission.  The EEOC grants victims of discrimination such a right by ensuring an advocate, friend, family, a practitioner, a social service organization or state agency, the right and ability to stand up for, protect, support, and advocate on behalf of victims of discrimination. We are simply asking that the people of the State of Connecticut be afforded the same rights and protections that other states take for granted.  The people of Connecticut should not have to file their claims of discrimination with the EEOC in Boston, Massachusetts because their own state agency invokes discriminatory and unequal protections.  The minorities, the disabled, the elderly, the minimum wage workers, the single mothers and fathers, the less fortunate beseech you to help them- instead of leaving them standing destitute and alone. Don’t forget about Us Too.  We therefore ask that the Time’s Up Bill include a provision that includes us too and mandates that our local CHRO adhere to the same standards, rules and regulations as are outlined by our Federal EEOC to guarantee the people of Connecticut equal access to fair representation and advocacy.  To help the historically disadvantaged, including women and minorities – to please protect and include Us Too!

 



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