Representatives discuss basic services, protections
By CHARLIE WRIGHT
Representatives from the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights (MCCR) visited the Waldorf West Library on Wednesday to give a presentation on the department and share their mission with the community.
An intimate group of Charles County residents gathered in the meeting room of the library for the slide show about the commission delivered by Education and Outreach Associate Towanda Oliver and Civil Rights Officer Maria Andrews.
“We believe if we are intentional about these types of events, education and outreach, we will achieve our vision hopefully one day to have a state that is free of any trace of unlawful discrimination,” Oliver said, to open the proceedings.
The commission has existed for 90 years, initially created to study the effects of society on the “colored population,” explained Oliver. Civil rights issues through the middle of the century led to a rebranding as the Commission on Human Relations, complete with a full staff and enforcement power. The group adopted its current title in 2011 to fully encompass all of the work it does.
A quick poll of the audience revealed only about a third of the room knew the commission existed before the presentation, underscoring the importance of outreach. The Baltimore-based organization offers these talks to public institutions as well as courses for businesses and offices free of charge, in order to increase awareness about all types of discrimination services. The commission protects Maryland residents in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations and commercial non-discrimination. The categories may seem narrow, but are expanded to include all aspects of each process. So discrimination regarding a job application or interview process would fall under employment and be within MCCR jurisdiction, even though the victim isn’t actually employed yet.
The complaint process begins with intake, followed by investigation, litigation and outreach. Andrews is part of the investigation team, working with complainants and defendants to assess situations and judge whether legal action should take place. Complaints can be filed by mail, phone, fax, e-mail or through the MCCR website. Victims have between 180 days and four years to register a grievance, depending on the classification of discrimination. The MCCR typically resolves cases within 180 days, and pending cases age at less than one-third the national average, said Andrews.
“We’re pushed hard to really focus on the time and process that it takes to conduct the investigation to keep the time and process down,” Andrews said.
In fiscal year 2016, the commission processed 932 complaints, with 83 percent of received complaints falling under employment. The MCCR brought in over $1.3 million in benefits to victims this past year.
The majority of MCCR funding comes at the federal level, and officers have to meet an individual yearly quota of cases. The commission works closely with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Housing and Urban Development, both of whom contract with the MCCR.
Although the commission does not receive a lot of state funding, Maryland itself has a large number of laws in place against discrimination, said Oliver. Unfortunately, many residents are unaware of these protections, so the primary goal of the MCCR is to inform the people.
“We try to be present,” Oliver said. “We believe if we educate, hopefully we’re proactive in reducing the complaints we get.”