The goal of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is to eradicate discrimination based on race, color, creed, national origin, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, and many more categories you might not know you are protected under. Across the commission’s four offices, over 3,000 complaints are investigated each year regarding alleged discrimination in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, lending, and credit. Around 20% of those complaints are for housing discrimination, which is the particular field I work in. Eradicating discrimination in the Commonwealth is a goal as ambitious and necessary as anything a state does, so I am excited to be a part of this mission in as small a way as I am. The other reason I wanted to work in this field was just to observe how people interact with this part of the legal process. Many people, especially in housing, come to the commission without a lawyer and with no intention of getting one. In truth, you do not need one to go through the process and I am proud that the commission does everything to remove barriers of access.
The complaint is what kicks off the entire MCAD process. The commission then serves the party that has allegedly done the discriminating and the investigator can do their own fact-finding with both parties. At the end of the investigation, they will write a disposition stating if it is more likely than not that discrimination occurred (probable cause), and I will be helping to write those this summer. If there is probable cause, there are various actions the MCAD takes depending on how the parties respond. The MCAD always brings parties in for conciliation so they can try and settle the case to avoid the more time-intensive and expensive public hearings. If successful, the complainant can be awarded emotional distress payment, lost wages, a reasonable accommodation, alternate housing, or whatever is the most appropriate for the case. I have seen this process a few times and the negotiations are endlessly fascinating to me. The MCAD also often requires respondents to attend training on the law they violated. These trainings are open to the public and do so much to prevent discrimination before it even occurs, helping thousands upon thousands to know the law in Massachusetts.
My work in the housing unit is primarily to help the investigators. I communicate with parties and try to get information that an investigator needs. I help keep the ship running by sending out notices, writing summaries of cases, and updating the case management system so future people can make sense of all the work we do.
The best example of small steps leading to bigger steps is the policy review I do. Disability is the most common protected category which complaints are based on at the MCAD. In certain settlements when the claim revolves around disability, and specifically denial of a reasonable accommodation, the Housing Authority or private owners need to come up with a reasonable accommodation policy, which they send to us for approval. I am the one to first read it and give feedback. I hope this helps to eradicate discrimination by ensuring people get better treatment in the future. Change is providing justice, discovering the truth, and then making sure we do everything to make sure discrimination ends. One case, one training, one policy review at a time.