This summer, I set out to learn more about Massachusetts law and talk to people at MCAD to get first hand experience. My internship had me working closely with the Director of Housing and Testing as well as housing investigators and employment attorneys. Whether I was drafting complaints and letters or performing tests to find evidence of discrimination, I got a chance to learn (sometimes through trial and error) about how a government organization runs. I learned a great deal about the law through drafting legal documents which enhanced my attention to detail and writing skills. I also learned how different federal, state, and municipal organizations work together to uphold the laws.
To students looking to intern at MCAD, my advice would be to learn as much as you can. Ask attorneys questions, go to brown bag lunches and read cases. It was definitely the best part of interning. Not only is MCAD a government organization, but it also deals with legal documents, huge databases, and other closely knit organizations such as the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development). I now have a greater understanding of what Massachusetts Discrimination law is, how it works, and how it is carried out. This information is also useful in understanding how law in general works. I learned about the different steps taken at the organization once a complaint is filed, such as investigation, finding, mediation, and possible hearing. The work that interns do is fun and challenging, but the best part is definitely learning and getting to know the employees and interns around you.
Interning at MCAD has reinforced my ideas about social justice. Especially when I was on intake, I got a chance to interact with people having a hard time because of the discrimination they faced in everyday life. It doesn’t seem right that someone should have to come to an organization and take time out of their lives to make sure they can feel safe at work or be able to find a place to life. If anything, working at MCAD has made me realize that more should be done to enforce the ideals that the Massachusetts law promotes. Even though I was a small part of the work at MCAD, I felt that I could change people’s lives by writing them a good complaint and helping them through what is at times a very difficult process. Having completed my internship at, I would like to get more experience in litigation and civil rights law to learn what more the law has to offer in order to help people who are treated unfairly.
Until next summer, when I plan on interning somewhere that I can be involved in civil rights, I plan on taking classes to learn more about the law and the history of discrimination in the United States. Additionally, I hope to join an innocence project during the school year. Working at MCAD has definitely made me want to become more involved.
The most advantageous aspect of interning at MCAD is how much interns are able to observe and become directly involved in the process. Throughout the course of our internships, we are scheduled to attend an investigative conference, a mediation conference, and an appeals hearing. These opportunities have allowed to me progress through my defined learning goals. Not only do I get a chance to read dozens of different cases, but I also get to see how different processes and steps work. During the mediation conference, I got to see a complainant and a respondent settle on a monetary amount after the complainant’s case was found by MCAD to have probable cause of discrimination. While I cannot go into great detail about the cases or the conferences, it has been great to get a chance to observe and ask the mediators and attorneys questions afterwards. Everyone is very willing to help and explain how the organization deals with differing situations. I am becoming more and more familiar with discrimination law, both on the state and federal level, just from my work with cases as I am usually the first person to see a case when it is sent to the housing department.
My goals for this internship included not only learning about discrimination law, but also figuring out if I am interested in pursuing a career in this area. I already know that I want to go to law school and that I am interested in civil rights, but I wanted to see if I liked both working in anti-discrimination law and working for the state. As far as working for the state, I have found it a bit difficult to deal with the bureaucracy in general but admire the work that is done. I am learning that working for the state means being connected to different state and federal organizations as well. For example, when MCAD takes a housing case, we also have to file with HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development). This means entering the case both into our system and HUD’s system (TEAPOTS), then waiting for approval. As the case goes on, there are tons of different steps that have to be taken. This allows the case to be reviewed by different organizations such as HUD and the BFHC (Boston Fair Housing Commission).
As far as working with anti-discrimination law, it still may be something I am interested in pursuing, but not at the state level. Cases tend to take an extremely long time just to be investigated because of how many cases each investigator is assigned to. I also want to be able to do other types of law and litigation along with anti-discrimination law.
Despite some reservations, I still find the internship to be enjoyable. Because there are so many interns, I have gotten a chance to become very close with some of them and we have lunch and go out all the time. I also feel that because I am in the housing department which is smaller, I have had to work harder to adjust and learn how to do things. This was difficult at first, but now I see it as a new skill (thinking on my feet) that I have had to develop as a result. This is something I believe will help me greatly in future internships and jobs. I also am honing skills in my attention to detail. At MCAD, it is crucial that everything be entered correctly. Even in intake, if we do something wrong when writing the complaint, often we cannot just change it but have to go through an amendment process because we are working with legal documents. This has taught me to be extremely cautious with my work, especially when people’s cases can be effected by the complaint I write for them.
Finally, I am most proud of the work I have been able to do on intake. As I mentioned in my first post, I am on intake for one full day a week and have to see clients and write complaints for them. First, the attorneys who review the complaints I write give me great feedback and have told me that my complaints are very well written. Also, I am especially proud of one of the complaints I wrote. The complaint went to the housing department so I got to enter it in and one of the best investigators took the case. She has scheduled an investigative conference in August so that I will be able to attend. I think the case is very strong for the complainant and I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
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.