Connecticut Commission on Human Rights

And Opportunities

 

At a Glance

 

CYNTHIA WATTS ELDER, Executive Director

Established - 1943

Statutory authority - CGS Chapter 814c

Central office - 21 Grand Street,

            Hartford, CT 06106

Number of positions - 101     

Recurring operating expenses - $6,161,172              

Organizational structure Nine-Member Commission Establishes Policy; Executive Director Manages Administrative Office and Four Regional Offices; Independent Office of Public Hearings.

 

Mission

The mission of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities 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.

 

Statutory Responsibility

     The Commission’s statutory responsibilities are to:

·         Eliminate illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and

                  credit transactions through civil and human rights law enforcement,

·         Monitor compliance with state contract compliance laws and small contractor set-aside

                provisions by state agencies, contractors, and subcontractors,

·         Review, approve, and monitor state agency affirmative action plans for compliance with laws

                requiring affirmative action and equal opportunity in state government, and

·         Establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons in Connecticut through strategies such as

                 education and outreach activities.

 

Public Service

     The Commission is a policy-making body consisting of nine members.  Five of the members are appointed by the Governor and four are appointed by the leadership of the General Assembly.  All new appointments require the advice and consent of the House and Senate.  The Commission conducts regular monthly meetings.  The Commission conducts special meetings and fact-finding hearings as it deems necessary.  

     There were eight commissioners serving at the end of the fiscal year.  They are Chairperson Amalia Vazquez Bzdyra, Secretary Benjamin F. Rhodes, Jr., Commissioners Esther Armmand, Debra M. Borrero, Edward Mambruno, George A. Marshall, Andrew M. Norton, and Edith Pestana. 

     An Executive Director is appointed by the Commission to oversee the operations of the agency.  The agency has four regional offices located in Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport, and Norwich, which receive and investigate cases from individuals who believe that they have suffered illegal discrimination.  The agency’s administrative office, also located in Hartford, houses the Office of the Executive Director, the Office of Commission Counsel, the Chief of Field Operations, the Administrative Services Division, the Offices of Diversity and Economic Services, the Special Enforcement Unit and the independent Office of Public Hearings.

 

Improvements/Achievements 2002-03

·         Department of Correction: The Commission completed an extensive fact-finding investigation of sexual harassment issues within the Department of Correction (DOC).  The investigation focused, not only on widespread claims of sexual harassment, but also on the manner in which DOC responds to the claims.  In February 2003, the Commission issued its final report on the matter, which included several recommendations designed to curb the incidents of sexual harassment, and to improve the handling of such claims by the DOC.

·         Affirmative Action in State Agencies: In FY 2003, the Commission prepared and issued Affirmative Action in State Agencies – The Millennium Report.  In addition to a detailed analysis of the affirmative action efforts of all state agencies for calendar years 2000 and 2001, this report also contained a broad overview of the changes that occurred in the state’s workforce from 1980 to 2000.   This report highlights the changes to the state’s workforce in the last two decades, the result being a workforce that is more diverse and more representative of the state’s population.  As most of the affirmative action obligations that state agencies must meet were enacted in the 1970s, this was the first report to examine the impact of these requirements over a lengthy period of time.

·         Legislation and Regulations: The General Assembly enacted Public Act 03-143, effective October 1, 2003, which allows CHRO to adopt regulations to establish procedures and standards for alternative dispute resolution in connection with discriminatory employment practice complaints. The act also requires, instead of permits, the attorney, for those complainants who are represented, to present all, or part of, the case in support of the complaint at a CHRO hearing, if the Attorney General or commission counsel determines that the interests of the state will not be adversely affected.

     The legislature also enacted Public Act 03-151, effective October 2, 2003 which requires CHRO and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) to provide all state agency affirmative action officers with at least ten hours of annual training in (1) state and federal discrimination laws and (2) internal discrimination investigation techniques. The act also prohibits agency affirmative action officers from representing their agencies before CHRO or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if the complainant also filed an internal affirmative action complaint. Finally, it requires the Attorney General, or his designee, who represent state agencies in CHRO or EEOC inquiries, to receive the same ten hours of legal and investigative training as required for affirmative action officers.

     The Regulation Review Committee approved an extensive revision of the agency’s Complaint Processing and Contested Case Proceedings regulations in October 2002.  The new regulations became effective on November 4, 2002.  The agency is in the process of revising its Affirmative Action By State Government regulations.

·         Case Processing:

Field Operations - During the fiscal year, the Commission received 2,517 complaint affidavits and closed 2,215 cases.  Known damages totaling $2,052,931.13 were received through conciliation for complainants who alleged they were victims of illegal discrimination.

Litigation – The Office of Commission Counsel (OCC) began the fiscal year with 33 cases pending in the public hearing process, 70 new cases were certified to public hearing during the fiscal year, including six default cases.  In addition, one case was remanded from the court for additional hearings.  During the year, 68 cases were dismissed from the public hearing process, by decision, settlement, defaults that were cured, and in one case, decertification.  This left 36 cases pending at public hearing at fiscal year end.  A total of $822,703 (excluding confidential settlements) was secured for complainants.   An additional 16 housing cases were filed in court, pursuant to CONN. GEN. STAT. § 46a-83(d).  One of these cases settled.  There were 17 such cases pending at the end of the fiscal year.  The OCC began the fiscal year with 26 other cases in court, primarily appeals from dismissals during the investigation or following public hearing.  During the year, seven new court cases were filed, and 18 were resolved, leaving 15 pending at the end of the fiscal year.  The Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which handled housing cases that were certified to public hearing or which went directly to court prior to August of 2001, had 12 cases pending at the end of the fiscal year.  A total of $54,908 was obtained for Complainants in all court cases.  The Managing Director reviewed 13 reopening requests during the fiscal year, and the Commission or the OAG made a total of 277 recommendations on requests for reconsideration.  Finally, during the fiscal year, the OCC filed amicus briefs in two court cases in which the state had an interest, and intervened in one other.

·         Training and Communication: The Commission continued its training program for investigative staff.   The OCC and Chief of Field Operations made quarterly visits to all regional offices, providing investigative staff training on complaint processing and legal developments.  Additionally, trainers from the Department of Public Safety provided training on interviewing and reporting techniques, interpersonal skills, and personal safety to staff.  Staff also participated in in-service training classes and training seminars.  The Executive Director facilitated two agency-wide meetings for staff to cover recent civil and human rights developments.

·         Diversity and Education Programs:  During the fiscal year, the affirmative action plans of 71 state agencies were submitted to the Commission.  Four (4) state agencies are on biennial filing status.  There were 63 plans approved (3 by default), one plan was disapproved, and there were seven conditional approvals.  The Commission staff conducted 54 technical assistance meetings with state agency Affirmative Action personnel and completed 20 technical assistance and compliance report reviews.

     The Commission serves as secretariat for the Connecticut Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission (MLK).  The MLK Commission presented the 17th Annual Bell Ringing Ceremony at the State Capitol, commemorating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The MLK Commission also presented its seventh annual statewide youth conference, “Connecticut’s Youth…Looking for Answers,” offering 300 high school students the opportunity to attend workshops addressing important issues such as teenage pregnancy, race relations, and cultural diversity.

     The staff planned, coordinated, and promoted special agency events throughout the year, including the agency’s third participation in “MLK Environmental Justice Day” at Yale-Peabody Museum in New Haven.

 

Information Reported as Required by State Statute

Affirmative Action

     The Commission is committed to affirmative action and equal employment and opportunity. The Commission’s affirmative action plan for its most recent reporting period was approved; good faith efforts were made to achieve hiring and promotion goals.  Contact was maintained with recruitment sources and organizations.  The Employee Advisory Committee met regularly to assist on matters, including affirmative action.  Diversity training was provided to new staff through the Department of Administrative Services.  The Commission’s program complies with state non-discrimination laws pertaining to the protected class of sexual orientation.

 

Freedom of Information

     The Commission has always taken seriously its responsibility to comply with the provisions of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.  The OCC is responsible for responding to all freedom of information (FOI) requests except those received directly in a regional office requesting a file being processed by that office.  The OCC also responds to subpoenas for documents and testimony related to agency procedures and documents.  Most requests are handled by support staff; complex requests are referred to the Managing Director.  A total of 197 FOI requests were answered by the support staff and an additional 41 requests were addressed by the Managing Director.  The Commission Counsel and Administrative Assistant ensure that all regular and special Commission meetings are properly noticed and filed with the Office of the Secretary of State in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Additional Information: Individuals seeking additional information about the Commission, the laws it enforces, and its services and programs are encouraged to contact the Commission’s website http://www.state.ct.us/chro/ or to call us at our toll free number (800) 477-5737.