The Department of Justice Civil Rights Division today released its accomplishments report for 2013. This report supplements the division’s first accomplishments report , issued last year, on the division’s work during the first four years of Attorney General Eric Holder’s leadership. In the division’s 57th year, its substantial caseload reflects the persistence of civil rights challenges that create barriers to equality and freedom. But in 2013, the division continued to set new records for numbers of cases and to reach first-of-their-kind agreements in a number of areas. Through its enforcement efforts, the division works to fight discrimination and protect the civil and constitutional rights of people across the country.
The division’s 2013 accomplishments report highlights its work to advance three core principles: expanding opportunity for all, safeguarding the fundamental infrastructure of democracy and protecting the most vulnerable among us.
“Last year, the Civil Rights Division worked to safeguard the most fundamental rights of American democracy, to extend the promise of equality and opportunity, and to advance the cause of justice that has defined this country since its earliest days,” said Attorney General Holder. “I commend the dedicated men and women of the Civil Rights Division for their leadership on these critical efforts. Their work is exemplary and in many cases groundbreaking. It goes to the heart of who we are as a nation and as a people. And that’s why it continues to be a top priority for this Department of Justice: because we are, and will always be, firmly committed to overcoming persistent threats as well as new challenges in order to ensure equal justice under law.”
“Over the course of 2013, the Civil Rights Division continued the impressive track record it initiated during the first four years of Attorney General Holder’s leadership,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “But for all that the division has accomplished, much work remains. The division remains committed to meeting the next generation of civil rights challenges and to combating discrimination in all its forms. We look forward to an even more productive 2014.”
Expanding opportunity for all
The division’s efforts to ensure equal access to education, housing, consumer credit and employment continue to set new records and to pioneer new models for bringing equal opportunity to all. For example, working with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, the division reached its largest ever auto lending settlement when Ally Bank and Financial Inc. agreed to pay $98 million for pricing discrimination in its automobile lending practices. The settlement provided $80 million in direct relief to African-American, Hispanic and Asian/Pacific Islander borrowers who were charged higher interest rate markups on auto loans than white borrowers. The division has obtained more than $800 million in monetary relief in fair lending settlements since the unit was founded in 2010.
Ahead of this year’s 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, in 2013, the division launched new tools and entered into agreements to address racial disparities in education systems across the country. After an investigation into disciplinary practices in the Meridian, Mississippi, public school system, the division found that black students frequently received far harsher disciplinary consequences, including arrests and incarceration, than white students for comparable and often minor misbehavior. The department entered into a landmark settlement with the Meridian school system that will create a discipline system that treats all students equally regardless of race. Also, to help all school districts administer discipline fairly and consistently, the division, along with the Department of Education, issued a groundbreaking joint discipline guidance for schools to prevent and address racial discrimination in school discipline. This guidance, along with its additional technical assistance material, provides important information on the means by which schools can act to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
The division continues its efforts to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are given the opportunity to participate fully in their communities, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. In 2013, the division investigated Training Thru Placement (TTP), one of the largest facility-based employment service providers in Rhode Island, and a sheltered workshop in a Providence high school. The division found that workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities typically remained at TTP for decades, earning sub-minimum wages, and that the high school workshop acted as a pipeline to TTP. The department’s investigation found that the workers with disabilities at TTP were not in the most integrated setting appropriate for them; rather, they were capable of working in real jobs with supports and participating in activities in the community. The division entered into an interim agreement with the state of Rhode Island and the Providence Public School District regarding TTP and the school-based workshop and expanded its investigation to all state-funded employment and day facilities to address the rights of people with disabilities to receive state employment and daytime services in the broader community, rather than in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs. Since 2009, the division’s Olmstead enforcement work has helped protect the rights of more than 46,000 people with disabilities.
T he division also continues to aggressively enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), ensuring that servicemembers returning from active duty are not penalized by their civilian employers. The division’s USERRA program is critically important because USERRA cases typically involve small amounts of back pay; without the division’s help, many servicemembers would not be able to find or afford private attorneys to take their cases. In Forsyth County, North Carolina, for example, the division reached an agreement to vindicate the employment rights of an Army National Guard soldier who was discharged from his job as a sheriff without cause less than a year after completing a deployment to Iraq.
Finally, the division collected a record in civil penalties, nearly $900,000, through its enforcement of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which prohibits citizenship status and national origin discrimination in hiring, firing or recruitment or referral for a fee, document abuse and retaliation or intimidation. The division also collected more in back pay than in any year in the past 10 years and settled major cases involving discriminatory documentary practices by Macy’s and Centerplate.
Safeguarding the fundamental infrastructure of democracy
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the division continues to use all of the tools still available in the Voting Rights Act (VRA) to ensure that all Americans can cast a ballot free from racial discrimination. In 2013, the department filed three complaints under the VRA to protect the rights of minority voters in Texas and North Carolina to challenge discriminatory voting laws; each of these challenges alleges that these state laws were enacted with discriminatory intent.
The division also expanded its record number of agreements with law enforcement agencies by entering into model agreements with the University of Montana Office of Public Safety and the Missoula Police Department to ensure that police services are delivered without discrimination, that sex crimes are fully and adequately investigated and that victims are treated fairly and with respect after an investigation found systemic failures to protect women victims of sexual assault.
During Fiscal Year 2013, the division’s Courts Language Access Initiative worked with the court systems in 17 states to ensure that individuals are not denied access to important court proceedings because of their national origin and their limited English proficiency. Access to state courts is critically important. Whether cases involve child custody, domestic violence, foreclosure, wage claims or criminal prosecution, the stakes are too high in the courtroom context for parties or witnesses to be effectively excluded from participation.
Protecting the most vulnerable among us
The division prosecutes crimes to ensure protections for some of the most vulnerable populations in the country: those who are abused and trafficked for sex work or labor; those who are attacked out of hate due to the color of their skin, where they worship or who they love. The division and its partners in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country filed 141 federal criminal civil rights cases, obtaining convictions of 166 defendants, in Fiscal Year 2013 –more than in any previous year in the division’s history.
For example, the division convicted 23 defendants on federal hate crimes charges – building on the division’s record in Fiscal Years 2009-2012, in which the division convicted 74 percent more individuals than in the preceding four years. The division’s Appellate Section also defended the constitutionality of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act in court. Through its Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, the division and its partners in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices also brought 71 human trafficking cases, the most in the history of the division. The division also brought 53 cases involving sex trafficking, a 55 percent increase over the previous year, and obtained convictions of 90 individuals for trafficking crimes.
The division also works to develop policy and legislative proposals to close the gaps in our nation’s civil rights protections. This year, the division provided technical assistance on numerous legislative initiatives, including the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
For more information about the Civil Rights Division, visit the division website.