Second only to New York, Massachusetts was one of the first states to create an organization entirely devoted to fighting discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation. Located next to the Massachusetts state house, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, or MCAD, utilizes multiple departments to both educate the public of their civil rights and investigate complaints for probable cause of discrimination. Anyone can come to MCAD and discuss discrimination they feel they are receiving, and MCAD will file formal complaints for any person who wishes to. After the complaint has been filed, investigators move forward by receiving statements from the respondents (persons accused of discrimination), then rebuttals from the complainant (person filing the complaint). MCAD uses the standard of probable cause to determine if the case should move forward. This means that if the investigator finds probable cause that discrimination occurred/is occurring, they move forward with the case.
I found an internship position at the MCAD through the Brandeis B-hired website. After applying to several positions, I was called back to interview for two positions; outreach and housing/testing. After interviewing, Eric Bove, the director of housing and testing, emailed me asked if I wanted an internship. After receiving details about the organization and the work I would likely be doing, I accepted the position.
As mentioned, this summer I am working on the Housing and Testing department of MCAD. The department is responsible for investigating complaints regarding housing discrimination. In addition, the department runs tests in all areas to find out if discrimination is occurring. For example, if the MCAD receives multiple complaints about housing discrimination from a certain realty office or landlord, the department would create a test and send out trained testers to find out if discrimination is taking place. This may be in the form of sending one white person and one person of another ethnicity (based on the ethnicity of the people alleging discriminatory practices) with similar credentials to see if the second person is treated differently.
My first week at MCAD mostly consisted of intense training. The new summer interns received training for four (4) days in Massachusetts state law and MCAD practices. We learned that most of the complaints filed at MCAD fall under Massachusetts law 151B Section 4, which lists protected categories that are unlawful to discriminate against. While I will learn more about my exact responsibilities next week, as of now, I am to do at least one day of complaint intake. This involves meeting with people who come to the office to allege discrimination. My job is to help them draft and file a complaint. Additionally, a lot of the work I will be doing involves reading through case files and contacting either the complainant or the respondent to continue the investigation process.
One of my goals for this summer is to fully familiarize myself with Massachusetts discrimination law as well as how the MCAD process impacts individuals who have faced discrimination. That said, the first week has already shown me that while there are myriad people willing to fight for the rights of others, most cases take an extremely long time and those who are discriminated against still suffer, even if they recover damages in the end.
Additionally, I have found through training that while many people are covered under the protected categories in 151B Section 4, there are still groups of people that I believe should also be protected but are not. One obvious group is social class (upper class, middle class, lower class, etc). While Massachusetts housing law makes Section 8 (people receiving money from the government) a protected class, people can still be lawfully discriminated against for their class in all other types of law such as employment.
Finally, we had an interesting discussion in training about an idea going around in Massachusetts about making physical appearance a protected category. The way many people see it, there is no doubt that people are treated differently based on their physical appearance. The question of how to define this concept in legal terms remains unanswered. Thus, my hope for the summer is to learn how certain protected categories came into being and how new ones can be defined and added to state (and federal) law.