Justice News

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband Delivers Remarks at the Epstein Becker and Green 38th Annual Workforce Management Briefing
New York, NY
United States
Monday, October 7, 2019

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, David for your kind introduction and for helping to organize this event. Additionally, I would like to thank David Stone for extending the invitation for me to speak and for everyone here for taking the time listen to me.

I serve as the assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice.  In that role, I head the Department’s Civil Rights Division.

The Civil Rights Division and its lawyers, investigators, experts, paralegals, support staff, and other employees and contractors work every day to protect the civil and constitutional rights of all of people in our Nation.  We enforce the civil and criminal civil rights statutes of the United States and Constitutional protections. These laws, generally, seek to implement our founding ideals – human dignity, equal justice, and equal opportunity for all.

I will begin by providing a brief overview of the Division’s structure and subject matters and then will discuss our priorities and continued work in these areas.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 established the Civil Rights Division as a law enforcement component of the U.S. Department of Justice.  Since 1957, the Division has played a unique and critical role in protecting civil rights in America.

Beginning in 1964, the Civil Rights Act established landmark protections against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. The Civil Rights Act built the groundwork for other critical federal civil rights statutes passed by Congress, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

The Division also plays a leading role in enforcing the federal human trafficking criminal laws, including especially the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations, which expanded on the older involuntary servitude and anti-slavery statues the Division has historically enforced.

The Civil Rights Division is divided into eleven sections, generally by subject matter. 

1. The Appellate Section works cooperatively with the trial sections in each of the Division’s substantive enforcement areas in representing the United States in civil rights cases in the federal courts of appeals.

The Appellate Section also files amicus curiae briefs in the courts of appeals to set forth the government’s position in significant civil rights case. The Section also works with the Solicitor General’s Office in developing the government’s position in Supreme Court cases that involve civil rights issues.

2.  The Criminal Section prosecutes cases involving the violent interference with liberties and rights defined in the Constitution or federal law.  Our criminal cases often involve three general types of cases:  hate crimes; labor and adult sex trafficking crimes; and color of law violations.  We also prosecute related offenses, such as the illegal use of a weapon and conspiracies to violate civil rights. 

Our Criminal Section works with U.S. Attorney Offices, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, other federal law enforcement agencies, and state and local law enforcement agencies. 

3. The Disability Rights Section works to achieve equal opportunity for people with disabilities in the United States by implementing and enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Section enforces the ADA in multiple ways, including civil litigation, and nonlitigation certification, regulatory, coordination, and technical assistance activities.  The Section also carries out responsibilities under Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, and Executive Order 12250.

4.  The Educational Opportunities Section enforces federal laws that prohibit race, sex, national original, language barrier, religion, disability, and other forms of discrimination in education. 

Specifically, the Educational Opportunities Section enforces Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title IV gives the Attorney General authority to address certain complaints of discrimination against students based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion in public schools and institutions of higher learning.  The Educational Opportunity Section also enforces the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 which, among other things, requires states and school districts to provide English Learner students with appropriate services to overcome language barriers; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability by state and local entities, including schools.

The Section also plays a significant role in enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin by recipients of federal funds; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of sex by recipients of federal funds, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds, with respect to recipients of funding from the Department of Justice. The Section also represents the Department of Education in lawsuits.

5. The Employment Litigation Section enforces against state and local government employers the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and other federal laws prohibiting employment practices that discriminate on grounds of race, sex including pregnancy, religion, and national origin.

The Section also enforces the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee or applicant because of such person’s past, current or future military obligation.

6. The Federal Coordination and Compliance Section ensures that all federal agencies consistently and effectively enforce civil rights statutes and Executive Orders.

7. The Housing and Civil Enforcement Section works to protect some of the most fundamental rights of individuals, including the right to access housing free from discrimination, the right to access credit on an equal basis, the right to patronize places of business that provide public accommodations and the right to practice one’s faith free from discrimination.  The Housing and Civil Enforcement Section enforces:

-- the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing,

-- the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits discrimination in credit;

-- Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in certain places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and theaters;

-- the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which prohibits local governments from adopting or enforcing land use regulations that discriminate against religious assemblies and institutions or which unjustifiably burden religious exercise, and

-- the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides for the temporary suspension of judicial and administrative proceedings and civil protections in areas such as housing, credit and taxes for military personnel while they are on active duty.

8. The Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER), enforces the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1324b. This law prohibits:  citizenship status discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee;  national origin discrimination in hiring, firing, or recruitment or referral for a fee, unfair documentary practices during the employment eligibility verification, Form I-9 and E-Verify, and retaliation or intimidation.

9. The Policy and Strategy Section supports and coordinates the policy work of the Division.

10. The Special Litigation Section works to protect civil rights in the following areas:

-- state or local institutions, including: jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities, and health care facilities for persons with disabilities;

-- disabilities with respect to the right of persons with disabilities to receive services in their communities, rather than in institutions, when appropriate;

-- the rights of people who interact with state or local police or sheriffs’ departments;

-- enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act;

-- the rights of people to practice their religion while confined to state and local institutions.

11. The Voting Section enforces the civil provisions of the federal laws that protect the right to vote, including the Voting Rights Act, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, and other federal civil rights laws about voting. 


Prosecuting Hate Crimes

The Division continues aggressively to combat hate crimes - violent and intimidating acts such as beatings, murders, or cross-burnings - that target an individual because of his or her race, color, national origin, religious beliefs, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

Over the past ten years, the Department of Justice has charged more than 200 defendants with hate crimes offenses. Since January 2017, the Department has indicted more than 50 defendants allegedly involved in committing hate crimes. During that same time, the Department has obtained convictions of over 40 defendants involved in committing hate crimes.

Hate crimes prosecutions are often high-profile and their impact is felt nationally and sometimes internationally.  Since January 2017, the Division’s hate crimes prosecutors have handled several high-profile investigations and criminal prosecutions, including cases in Charlottesville, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Jeffersontown, Kentucky.

State and local officials investigate and prosecute many hate crimes, and we seek ways to assist our state and local law enforcement partners in combatting hate crimes. For example, when Kedarie Johnson, a gender-fluid teenager in Burlington, Iowa, was brutally murdered and left dead in an alleyway, the Division and the FBI commenced a hate crime investigation.  The Department authorized a Civil Rights Division prosecutor to work directly on the state prosecution team.  In separate trials, the juries found the defendants guilty of first-degree murder and the court sentenced each to life in prison.

To expand and strengthen hate crimes enforcement, the Department launched a Hate Crimes Enforcement and Prevention Initiative. The Civil Rights Division leads that Initiative, which is charged with coordinating the Department’s efforts to eradicate hate crime. The Initiative facilitates training, outreach, and education to law enforcement agencies and the public at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels.  For more, please see our hate crimes website, https://www.justice.gov/hatecrimes

Prosecuting Human Traffickers

The Division plays a lead role in the Department’s efforts to enforce laws against human trafficking, including both sex trafficking and forced labor. Working with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide and other law enforcement, the Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU) leads prosecutions of complex, multi-jurisdictional, and international cases. It spearheads enforcement initiatives to strengthen the federal law enforcement response to human trafficking crimes and expand federal law enforcement capacity to bring high-impact prosecutions to dismantle transnational, organized trafficking networks.

The Civil Rights Division also provides national and international expertise in cases involving forced labor; sex trafficking of adults by force, fraud, and coercion; and international sex trafficking cases.

From 2013 -2017, the Division, in partnership with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, brought 427 human trafficking cases, compared to 235 from 2008 - 2012, marking an 82 percent increase.

The Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit also leads the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative, an interagency enforcement collaboration with the FBI, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor. The ACTeam Initiative convenes specialized teams of federal agents and federal prosecutors in competitively selected districts to develop high-impact human trafficking investigations and prosecutions in collaboration with national anti-trafficking subject matter experts.

Mexico is the country of origin of the largest number of foreign-born human trafficking victims identified in the United States. In response to numerous U.S. federal investigations and prosecutions of trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security launched the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative to enhance collaboration with Mexican law enforcement counterparts to combat transborder trafficking threats.

Under the leadership of the Civil Rights Division’s HTPU, U.S. and Mexican authorities exchange leads and intelligence to strengthen investigations and prosecutions, restore victims, recover victims’ children, and dismantle trafficking networks through high-impact prosecutions in both the U.S. and Mexico.

Working to Eliminate Race Discrimination

Last year, the Division and the Department commemorated the 50th anniversary of the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every section of the Civil Rights Division plays a role in seeking to make Dr. King’s vision of a nation free from racial prejudice a reality.

The Division enforces numerous civil and criminal statutes that protect against discrimination because of, or violence motivated by, race. For example, since the passage of the Fair Housing Act, the Division has been at the forefront of enforcing its protections, eliminating race discrimination in housing.  We also prosecute race-motived hate crimes. 

For example, on August 6, Graham Williamson of Seminary, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to planning and executing a racially motivated crossburning in a predominantly African-American residential area.

Using materials from their residences, the defendant and another person built a cross that they later set up and lit on fire near the homes of African-American residents.  Mr. Williamson admitted to knowing that burning crosses have historically been used to threaten, frighten, and intimidate African-Americans, and he wanted to make the community members in the neighborhood fearful.  He faces up to 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for conspiracy and interfering with the African-American residents’ housing rights. 

The Department of Justice will not tolerate this kind of racially-motivated violence.

We have an active civil docket as well.  For example, on September 30, we filed a lawsuit alleging that defendant Guaranteed Auto Sales, a used car dealership, along with its owner and manager violated the federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act by offering different terms of credit based on race to those seeking to purchase and finance used cars in Glen Burnie, Maryland. The lawsuit is based on the results of testing conducted by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program, in which individuals pose as prospective car buyers to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and alleges that defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination by offering less favorable auto loan terms to African American testers than white testers. The complaint also alleges that employees of Guaranteed Auto Sales told African American testers that they needed larger down payments than white testers for the same used cars, and told African American testers that they were required to fund their down payments in one lump sum, while they gave white testers an option of paying in two installments.

On June 13, 2019, we announced a settlement that resolved allegations that First Merchants Bank engaged in lending discrimination by “redlining” predominantly African-American neighborhoods within Indianapolis, Indiana. “Redlining” is a term describing an illegal practice in which lenders intentionally avoid providing services to individuals living in predominantly minority neighborhoods because of the race of the residents in those neighborhoods.    

The Department alleged that First Merchants violated the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibit financial institutions from discriminating on the basis of race in their mortgage lending services.

In August 2018, the Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section successfully settled a lawsuit against the Village of Tinley Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, alleging that it violated the Fair Housing Act when it refused to approve a low-income housing development in response to race-based community opposition. The settlement required the Village to pay $410,000 and take a number of actions to guard against further housing discrimination, including training elected officials and individuals involved in the planning process, developing a fair housing policy, and hiring a fair housing compliance officer.

Multiple other sections of the Division work to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race in the workplace. The Division’s Employment Litigation Section enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and seeks to eliminate race, color, and other forms of workplace discrimination.

For example, on August 27, the Department announced the filing of a Title VII race discrimination suit against Baltimore County and the Baltimore County Police Department. 

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants engaged in unintended employment discrimination against African American applicants for entry-level police officer and cadet positions by making hiring decisions based on the results of hiring examinations that were not job-related and that disproportionately excluded African-American applicants. 

In February 2018, the Division successfully settled a race, color, and national origin discrimination case brought under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In that case, the Division reached a settlement to resolve a lawsuit against the owners and operators of 360 Midtown, a sports bar and lounge located in Houston, Texas. The settlement resolved a lawsuit  that alleged that the sports bar engaged in a pattern or practice of illegal conduct by implementing discriminatory practices to discourage or deny admission to African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American patrons. The alleged practices included selectively imposing cover charges against minority patrons and selectively enforcing a dress code against them.

The Division is committed to continuing its efforts to eliminate race discrimination in this country.

Protecting U.S. Workers

When employers abuse temporary visa programs, U.S. workers miss job opportunities.  In March 2017, the Division launched its Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative to tackle this issue. The Initiative focuses on combatting employment discrimination against U.S. workers. The Division uses investigation, lawsuits, outreach, and interagency coordination to fight employer preferences for temporary visa holders, while educating U.S. workers about their rights.

The Civil Rights Division has also increased its collaboration with other federal agencies, including the Departments of State and Homeland Security, to combat discrimination and abuse by employers improperly using temporary visa workers. In 2017, the Division entered into a similar ongoing partnership with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to combat discrimination and violations of other federal worker protection laws by facilitating the agencies’ information sharing.

Protecting Servicemembers

Servicemembers defend the security and freedom of our nation at great personal sacrifice. While they carry the burdens of this nation, they should not have to worry that the financial sacrifices they are making will result in lenders foreclosing on their homes or repossessing their cars, or businesses wrongfully obtaining default judgements against them that damage their credit. Similarly, servicemembers and their families should not be prevented from voting while stationed away from home or face employment discrimination because of their military service.

The Division uses its Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative to conduct outreach, assistance, and training for servicemembers, veterans, and military families. The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative facilitates and coordinates listening sessions between the Department and military members to identify the legal issues impacting today’s servicemembers. It educates military members and legal practitioners about the federal laws protecting servicemembers, as well as the Department’s work on behalf of servicemembers, veterans, and military family members. Following these listening sessions, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative relays matters with litigation potential to the Division’s litigating components.

The Division vigorously protects servicemembers’ civilian employment rights by enforcing the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), voting rights by enforcing the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), and financial and housing security through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The Division also strives to protect the rights of servicemember spouses, dependents, and veterans eligible for certain protections under the SCRA and UOCAVA. Finally, the Division works to protect the rights of veterans with disabilities and conducts outreach to educate servicemembers, military family members, veterans, legal professionals, and advocates about these federal protections.

Since January 2017, our SCRA settlements have included over $6 million in damages and civil penalties.

Additionally, in 2017 and 2018, the Division reviewed 95 claims involving employment rights of servicemembers and veterans, offered representation to 18 claimants, and filed five complaints on their behalf.

The Civil Rights Division entered three court-approved consent decrees and facilitated 15 additional settlements. The grand total for these settlements is over $340,000 in cash payments, pension credits, sick leave, backdated promotions, and one job reinstatement.

The Division closely monitored UOCAVA compliance in special, primary, and general elections for federal office throughout the country to ensure that Americans serving in our uniformed services, their families and U.S. citizens living overseas have a meaningful opportunity to request and receive their absentee ballots in time to vote and have their votes counted. Before federal elections in 2017 and 2018, the Division monitored each State and Territory to determine whether there were obstacles to timely transmission of UOCAVA absentee ballots. The Division then confirmed that these ballots were, in fact, timely sent. The Division engages in continuous follow-up on ballot transmission issues, review of possible structural impediments to compliance, and other UOCAVA obligations. The Division also regularly coordinates with the Federal Voting Assistance Program at the Department of Defense.

As part of that nationwide enforcement effort, in 2018 the Division filed suit to enforce UOCAVA and obtained consent decrees in two states. Through the last two fiscal years, the Division has also worked out other informal resolutions with states to protect the rights of military and overseas voters.

The Division continually looks for new ways to protect the rights of servicemembers, veterans, and military family members. For example, the Division launched a Veterans’ Access Initiative to increase access to community life for our nation’s veterans with disabilities. The Division routinely receives complaints that public programs and services are inaccessible to veterans with disabilities because of architectural or programmatic barriers. Such barriers can impede or prevent veterans with disabilities from returning to school, accessing a polling place, or even going to a park or restaurant with their family.

The Division addresses widespread discrimination against veterans with disabilities who use service animals. The Americans with Disabilities Act generally requires public entities and public accommodations to provide access to individuals with disabilities who use service animals. Yet, many public accommodations across the country prohibit individuals with disabilities from entering with a service animal.  

Indeed, the Division receives more citizen complaints alleging service animal­related discrimination than any other issue, and a large percentage of those are from veterans with disabilities, for whom the ability to use a service animal is critical to re-integration into their communities.

Protecting Voting Rights

The Division’s Voting Section enforces federal voting laws and defends the United States when it faces lawsuits over voting matters. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits racial discrimination in voting in every jurisdiction in the country. Since January 2017, the United States has participated as a party or an amicus in six cases brought under Section 2. Three of those cases have been finally resolved by federal appellate courts. In each of those three cases, the appellate courts have adopted the position advocated by the United States. One case settled successfully, and two are pending in federal circuit courts. In one of those cases, the United States participated in oral argument at the end of March 2019 before the en bane Ninth Circuit in a case presenting an important question regarding Section 2’s results test.

In 2017, the Division participated in an important voting rights case in the Supreme Court involving the interpretation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute.  The Supreme Court adopted the Department’s position, which guarantees that state and local jurisdictions can uphold the right to vote by maintaining complete and accurate voter registration rolls. 

The Division also recently entered into four agreements to protect the right to vote. The first of these resolved a lawsuit that the Division brought under the UOCAVA to protect the  rights of military and other overseas absentee voters to participate in a special election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional district.

In June 2018, the Division entered into a settlement agreement with the State of Wisconsin that ensures that Wisconsin voters who temporarily reside overseas receive voting protections.

The next month, July 2018, the Division entered into a settlement agreement with the Commonwealth of Kentucky that guarantees that Kentucky will make a reasonable effort, as required by Section 8 of the NVRA, to remove from its voter rolls the names of individuals who have become ineligible to vote due to a change in residence. And in February 2019, the Division entered into a settlement agreement with the State of Connecticut that will ensure that Connecticut, as required by the NVRA and the Help America Vote Act, will remove from its voter rolls the names of individuals who have died.

Every year, the Voting Section also monitors elections in jurisdictions around the country. In 2016, the Division sent over 500 election observers to 26 jurisdictions for the November 2016 general election. During the elections in November 2018, the Division deployed personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states to monitor compliance with federal voting rights laws.

In addition, the Division’s Disability Rights Section enforces the ADA’s requirements to ensure equal access to polling places and the election process for people with disabilities. In 2015, the Division, partnering with U.S. Attorneys across the nation, launched the ADA Voting Initiative to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process, including in the 2016 presidential elections. The ADA Voting Initiative covers all aspects of voting, from voter registration to casting ballots at neighborhood polling places. Through this initiative, more than 1,600 polling places have been surveyed to identify barriers to access.

For example, on March 12, 2019, we announced an agreement with Harris County, Texas, to resolve our lawsuit alleging that Harris County violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide an accessible voting program to voters with disabilities, including accessible polling places. Harris County’s voting program—the third largest in the country—includes over 750 polling places. The Justice Department’s complaint alleged that many polling places in Harris County have architectural barriers—such as steep ramps, gaps in sidewalks and walkways, and locked gates along the route barring pedestrian access—that make them inaccessible to voters with mobility and vision disabilities.

Under the agreement, Harris County will create and implement policies, practices, and procedures to bring its voting program into compliance with the ADA. These include: creating an effective system for selecting accessible facilities for polling places; surveying polling place facilities to identify accessibility barriers; procuring and implementing temporary accessibility remedies, such as mats or ramps, during elections; and providing effective curbside voting. Harris County will also conduct accessibility surveys of nearly two-thirds of its polling places.  Harris County will also hire subject matter experts to provide technical assistance and training to the County’s staff, vendors, and election officials on how to provide accessible polling places, as well as to provide reports to the parties on the County’s progress in complying with the agreement.

Protecting Religious Freedom

The right to practice one’s faith freely, to participate in civic life without discrimination, and to be free from violence based on one’s faith arc fundamental American values protected by our Constitution and civil rights laws. The Division is working to advance these core areas of religious freedom in several ways.

The Division enforces the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). RLUIPA protects religious communities from zoning laws or decisions that discriminate against places of worship. It also helps ensure that individuals in institutions such as jails can practice their faith without undue burden.

To increase enforcement and public awareness of the land use provisions of RLUIPA, on June 13, 2018 , the Attorney General announced the Place to Worship Initiative. The Initiative focuses on outreach and education efforts and is targeted at religious leaders, county and municipal officials, and the public.  The Division initiated 22 matters, opened 17 investigations, filed six cases, and settled six lawsuits involving discriminatory zoning laws or decisions that affect places of worship or religious schools or centers.

The Division also has a Religious Discrimination initiative in conjunction with U.S. Attorney Office partners to combat religious discrimination in schools, including harassment against minority faith groups. Since 2017, the Division, in coordination with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has opened a number of new investigations in this area. For example, in 2018, the Division’s Educational Opportunities Section opened an investigation into allegations that a public high school failed to respond appropriately to peer-on-peer religious harassment.

The Civil Rights Division also has been active in filing amicus briefs and statements of interest in cases involving a wide range of religious liberty issues, including the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion protections, school choice, religious expression on college campuses, and other religious expression issues.

Recognizing that the right to practice one’s faith without fear of violence is critical to the exercise of religious freedom, the Division has been active in prosecuting hate crimes involving attacks or threats against places of worship or against individuals based on their religion. For example, since January 2017, the Division has obtained eight indictments and six convictions in cases involving arson or other physical attacks, or conspiracy or threats to commit such attacks, against places of worship.  Religious hate crimes are a significant number of hate crimes, second only to racial hate crimes, and the Division is committed to prosecuting vigorously such crimes.

Addressing Opioid Addiction

The opioid epidemic is a crisis of epic proportions, impacting nearly every community across the country. On November 1, 2017, the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued a report calling for comprehensive action by the federal government. The Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are responding, working to ensure that individuals who have completed, or are participating in, treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) do not face unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to recovery. 

People with OUD who are in treatment or recovery may experience discrimination in settings such as employment or the receipt of state and local programs and services. Businesses that seek to provide treatment to affected individuals may encounter discriminatory zoning restrictions. The Division focuses on addressing and removing these barriers. Through outreach, technical assistance, and enforcement under the ADA, the Division aims to increase the number of people in treatment and recovery who succeed and re-engage with their communities and the workforce.

Conducting outreach is a crucial part of this work. Through analysis of federally-collected data, the Civil Rights Division has identified cities, counties, and states with the highest numbers of opioid overdoses.

The Division continues to conduct targeted outreach in many of these communities. Through this outreach, the Division will educate public employers, public entities, and public accommodations about the ADA’s protections for people in treatment for, or recovery from, OUD. The Division will also inform health care workers, social workers, members of faith-based organizations, and other professionals in these communities about the ADA’s protections for people with OUD. To complement this outreach, the Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are investigating complaints from people with OUD who are in treatment or recovery.

Combatting Sexual Harassment and Sexual Abuse

Sexual harassment in housing, employment, and education as well as sexual assaults in prisons and nursing homes are long-standing civil rights challenges that the Division is making a renewed commitment to address.

Sexual harassment in housing, including harassment of tenants by landlords, property managers, and maintenance staff, affects an untold number of vulnerable people. It often involves unrelenting, unwanted sexual advances or requests for sexual acts in exchange for a place to live, home repairs, reduced rents, or delayed evictions.

On the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, in 2018, the Division launched the Sexual Harassment in Housing Initiative to increase awareness and reporting of sexual harassment in housing. The Division seeks to combat sexual harassment by driving more referrals to the Department, enabling it to bring more lawsuits to enforce the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition on sexual harassment. Since the launch of the Initiative in in 2018, the Division has opened a record number of investigations and filed twice as many sexual harassment in housing complaints as it filed in all of 2017 and as many as the highest total number of complaints it has filed in any of the last five fiscal years.

On February 28, 2018, the Division announced the formation  of the Sexual  Harassment in the Workplace Initiative, which will address sexual harassment in the public sector workplace and build  on  the Division’s  already  robust enforcement  in this area.  The Sexual  Harassment in the Workplace Initiative seeks to increase litigation of sexual harassment claims against state and  local  government  employers by taking a more aggressive approach to the investigation of charges referred by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Initiative seeks to develop tools to hold state and local government employers accountable for sexual harassment, including by identifying changes to existing practices and policies that will result in work environments that are free from sex harassment and discrimination. As part of the Initiative, the Division will conduct outreach to state and local government employers.

In addition, on December 21, 2018, the Division signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the EEOC. The MOU will strengthen the Division’s efforts to prevent, investigate, and prosecute sexual harassment in state and local governments. The MOU includes provisions for the expedited coordination of any charge involving state or local government employers where the EEOC’s preliminary investigation of a charge reveals that immediate action is needed to prevent further harm. In those cases, the EEOC will provide the Justice Department with the information necessary to obtain an injunction, temporary or preliminary relief, in federal court for the affected employees, pending the outcome of the charge.

The Division’s Educational Opportunities Section will continue its work to protect students from sexual harassment and assault in K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning, including through new investigations and through the monitoring of existing settlement agreements.

Finally, the Division is increasing its efforts to protect individuals in correctional facilities from exploitation, discrimination, and violence. In 2020, the Division will focus efforts on an initiative to address the sexual abuse of prisoners, pretrial detainees, and juveniles in custodial settings. This initiative will protect the constitutional rights of people in custody and help further the goals of The Prison Rape Elimination Act by preventing, detecting, and responding to custodial sexual abuse. In line with these priorities, in 2018, the Division opened two investigations of alleged sexual abuse of women prisoners. In addition, the Division continues to enforce approximately 15 agreements with state and local governments concerning a variety of civil rights concerns in conditions in adult jails and prisons.

Sex Discrimination in Employment

The Civil Rights Division also targets sex discrimination in employment.  One case illustrates the point. 

On July 18, 2018, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn announced a $20.8 million settlement with the City of New York to compensate City-employed registered nurses and midwives who were subjected to discrimination because they are women. In that case, the Department alleged that the City failed to recognize that the work of predominantly-female registered nurses and midwives was “physically taxing,” while deeming other predominantly-male occupations “physically taxing.”  As a result, City employees in the predominantly-male “physically taxing” jobs retired with full pensions as early as age 50, while registered nurses and midwives, who are predominantly female, had to wait until age 55 or 57 to retire with full pensions.         The settlement applies to a proposed class of approximately 1,665 registered nurses and midwives. 

I would like to close by thanking you for this opportunity to discuss the work of the Civil Rights Division.

I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

Updated October 7, 2019