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Feb 2009 Newsletter         Subscribe to this newsletter


Feb 2009

In this issue:

City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative:
New report assesses progress, charts future action

Enforcement Update: Settlement results in awards totaling $16,000

Kudos Corner

Announcement:
Join us and help spread the word!
The 2009 RSJI Speaker Series is proud to present:
Jessica Pettitt - Social Justice Core Competencies
  • Wednesday, February 4th, 9AM-11AM
  • Bertha Knight Landes Room, City Hall
  • Free and open to all City employees
  • See Event flyer

    Seattle Office for Civil Rights: Ambitious agenda yields accomplishments in 2008

    By Julie Nelson, Director

    It was a busy year.

    The snow of December '08 provided an opportunity to catch our breath after a very full year of activity. Here are some of the highlights of our work in 2008.

    Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative: SOCR continued to lead the Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), an effort to eliminate institutional racism and race-based disparities within city government. In 2008, RSJI:

  • Developed new policies for City departments on outreach and public engagement;
  • Introduced a new tool for departments to analyze budget and policy proposals from a Race and Social Justice perspective;
  • Conducted a Citywide employee survey about RSJI; and
  • Continued to coordinate RSJI training for City employees. By the end of the year, more than 3,500 employees had received training in Race and Social Justice.
  • We also completed an assessment of the Initiative's work and developed a plan for expanding the Initiative. (For more information about RSJI, please see the article, "New report assesses progress, charts future action" elsewhere this issue.)

    Vigorous enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: SOCR continued to conduct investigations and negotiate settlements for individuals who filed charges of illegal discrimination. In 2008, SOCR:

  • Negotiated settlements totaling nearly $90,000 on behalf of people who filed charges with our department.
  • For the second year in a row, reduced the time it takes to resolve cases.
  • Convened a roundtable with local agencies and organizations to explore ways to help people who experience discrimination because of their criminal history, especially in housing.
  • Completed a full revision of the rules that we use to enforce anti-discrimination laws (SHRR Chapter 40), making our procedures easier to understand and consistent with amendments to the Seattle Municipal Code since 1985. The most significant change was an increase in the minimum award that a charging party can receive for humiliation, pain and suffering caused by discrimination. The new amount of $750 will be adjusted annually based on the rate of inflation.
  • Community leader in civil and human rights: SOCR's policy and outreach activities helped ensure that civil and human rights are a priority in Seattle.

  • Helped organize important public events such as Seattle Human Rights Day, the Seattle Race Conference, Pride, and "Honoring the Veterans of the November 16, 1944 Fort Lawton Court-Martial."
  • Offered a series of half-day training events on illegal discrimination for Seattle-area human service agencies.
  • Worked closely with financial institutions, businesses and community organizations to fight predatory lending and improve financial literacy among low-income Seattle residents.
  • No summary, however, can do justice to the day-to-day work of our department - the thousands of phone calls answered and customers assisted. I want to close by recognizing all of the staff of SOCR. When I look back at 2008, I am proud of how much we accomplished and how hard we worked. For your dedication, professionalism and great sense of humor, I thank you all!

    Julie Nelson Signature

     


    City of Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative:
    New report assesses progress, charts future action

    The Seattle Office for Civil Rights has released a new report that describes the City of Seattle's Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI). The report, which is now available on SOCR's web site, assesses the progress of RSJI and offers a roadmap for the Initiative's future work.

    Entitled "Looking Back, Moving Forward," the report explains why the City of Seattle has undertaken an anti-racism initiative and describes the City's work so far to address systemic disparities within City government and services. Mayor Greg Nickels called for the Initiative in his first term; in 2004 he asked the Seattle Office for Civil Rights to coordinate the City's ongoing efforts.

    "We focused on City government because the Mayor believed it was critical that we first begin to get our own house in order," said SOCR director Julie Nelson. "We need to demonstrate our commitment to end racism within our own institution before we can work with the wider community on critical race issues."

    According to the report, a recent independent assessment of RSJI found that most City departments have embraced the Initiative, and that the Initiative has resulted in significant policy and program changes, including a doubling of the percentage of contracting for non-construction goods and services with women and minority owned businesses. The assessment identified several areas to strengthen, including holding departments more accountable for outcomes and enforcing expectations across all departments.

    The report also describes the next phase of the Race and Social Justice Initiative. RSJI will work to eliminate race-based community disparities in areas such as economic equity, environmental justice, criminal justice, health and education. In addition, RSJI will continue to work within City government and to improve public engagement between Seattle residents and City government.

    "Our goal is to create a shared vision and active commitment to Race and Social Justice throughout our city in order to achieve genuine, long-term social change," said Glenn Harris, RSJI Manager. "The RSJ Initiative represents an ongoing commitment to a new way of doing business."

    For more information about the Initiative or to view a copy of the RSJI report, visit www.seattle.gov/civilrights/rsji.htm


    Enforcement Update: Settlement results in awards totaling $16,000

    The City of Seattle's Law Department recently negotiated settlements in a pair of housing discrimination cases that were scheduled to go before Seattle's Hearing Examiner in early 2009. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) had issued reasonable cause findings in both cases, which charged the same property owner with housing discrimination based on familial status and retaliation. In the final settlement, the owner agreed to pay one pair of charging parties $10,000, plus a $1,000 civilpenalty to SOCR. (The other couple received $5,000.)The settlement also requires the owner to hire a professional company to provide property management services.

    In one of the cases, the landlord increased the rent and utility payment on a couple's apartment after they had a baby. The couple negotiated a smaller increase than had been originally proposed but when they requested a formal lease agreement, the landlord refused. After the couple told the apartment manager they planned to take the issue to the Fair Housing Center of Washington, the manager reported it to the owner, who stated she did not want to "rent to people like that" and refused to sign the new lease.

    SOCR referred the cases on to the Law Department after the owner did not respond to our requests to settle the cases. SOCR tries very hard to convince respondents to settle directly with us after we issue reasonablecause findings, which are designed to stand up in court. Once cases are transferred to the Law Department, respondents' legal expenses can - and do - skyrocket. SOCR's Karina Bull investigated the case, and participated in the negotiations that set the terms of the eventual settlements.

    SOCR investigates discrimination complaints that occur within Seattle's city limits. We charge no fees for any of our services, including investigations, settlement negotiations and interpretation. Most charging parties and respondents participate in the process on their own, without the involvement of attorneys. If you feel you have been discriminated against in housing, employment or public areas please call (206) 684-4500.

     


    Kudos Corner

     

    The staff in SOCR's Administrative Team provides exceptional customer service on a daily basis. They are the first point of contact for many customers who are seeking information on their rights in employment and housing or in many cases, who are facing a difficult and sometimes dangerous life situation and are in need of immediate assistance. This was the case in December when Rose Hoskins and Maria Rodriguez showed their dedication, heart and willingness to take the time necessary to assist someone in need.

    A woman called who spoke limited English. Rose called her back using the Language Line in order to have an interpreter on the line. The woman and her two daughters transferred here from a California housing program and were told they were confirmed a place to stay. Upon arrival she was told she could not secure housing because she did not have a social security number. The woman and her daughters stayed with her sister until a domestic violence situation occurred with her sister's husband and as a result the woman had to file a restraining order against him. They were staying at a motel on vouchers that were to end that day.The woman's counselor instructed her to call around to find a shelter, but she had been unsuccessful.

    Rose called several shelters to find the family a room but was told rooms were not available and in some cases agencies were out of funding to provide housing. Rose and Maria put several calls in to 211 and three other agencies for advocacy, but without success.

    Rose then contacted the YWCA where a staff person said she had a room for them and could hold it for 1 hour. Rose contacted the family and put them in touch with the staff person at the YWCA to secure their room.

    Huge kudos to Rose and Maria for their work in assisting this family and for consistently providing staff and clients of SOCR with the best in customer service!!


    Seattle Office for Civil Rights
    Julie Nelson, Director

    For newsletter questions contact Brenda Anibarro, (206) 684-4514 Brenda.Anibarro@Seattle.Gov