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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Ortiz Announces Creation of Civil Rights Unit

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts

BOSTON – United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz announced today the creation of a Civil Rights Unit whose primary focus will be the civil enforcement of federal civil rights laws in Massachusetts.   The new unit, which will operate within the office’s Civil Division, will also collaborate with local community members, advocacy groups and other federal and state agencies in the area of civil rights. 

“As U.S. Attorney protecting the civil rights of the residents of Massachusetts has been a top priority,” said U.S. Attorney Ortiz.  “We are committed to ensuring a level playing field for all residents in the Commonwealth, advancing equal opportunity, and educating the public about their rights and responsibilities.  I can think of no better way to further this mission than by creating a unit comprised of attorneys and staff who are dedicated solely to enforcing and promoting federal civil rights.”

“U.S. Attorney Ortiz has demonstrated her office's firm commitment to vigorous and robust civil rights enforcement,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. “Institutionalizing this Civil Rights Unit will help enhance our shared mission to ensure equal opportunity and equal justice for all of the communities we serve.”

The Civil Rights Unit (CRU) is charged with enforcing federal civil rights statutes that protect the rights of the most vulnerable and underserved members of our community.  The unit will focus on enforcing those laws that prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, national origin, gender, religion and disability; prohibit police misconduct; protect the constitutional rights of institutionalized persons; protect the employment rights of servicemembers; and prohibit discrimination in housing and mortgage lending.  The unit will be led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer A. Serafyn.

Today, U.S. Attorney Ortiz hosted two civil rights-focused roundtables.  The first focused on fair housing issues and included key stakeholders from state and local advocacy organizations.  The second roundtable discussion, which featured Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, concentrated on community-police relations with law enforcement officials and representatives from faith-based institutions and organizations serving the community.

Since 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has actively investigated and resolved civil rights cases involving disability discrimination, fair housing, fair lending, and Veterans’ rights, among others.  Several recent examples of the Office’s civil rights work include:

  • An agreement with the City of Somerville resolving discrimination against a service member who was disadvantaged in his employment with the City’s Fire Department because of his military service;

  • An agreement with Sage Bank, headquartered in Lowell, for engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race and national origin in the pricing of its residential mortgage loans;

  • Issued a Letter of Findings in the investigation into Massachusetts Department of Children and Families for denying opportunities, benefits, and services to a 21-year-old single mother who has a developmental disability;

  • Filed Statement of Interest in private lawsuit alleging that Springfield Public Schools discriminated against hundreds of children with mental health disabilities by segregating them in a separate school;

  • An agreement with edX, an online course provider, over the accessibility of its website;

  • Initiated an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance review of restaurants in the Seaport and Fort Point sections of Boston and hotels in Copley Square;

  • An agreement with the Town of Ware Police Department in a case involving effective communication for a deaf person at the police station;

  • An agreement with Clarendon Hill Towers, a Somerville apartment building, for violating the fair housing rights of a couple and their three children; and

  • An agreement with the owners of a North Attleboro apartment complex for discriminating against families with children.

In addition to the Office’s vigorous investigation and prosecution of civil rights matters, the Civil Rights Unit also has actively been reaching out to the community and providing training on civil rights matters.  For example, the Office commemorated the 25th anniversary of the ADA by hosting a roundtable discussion with disability rights advocates and celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act by hosting a panel discussion on emerging voting rights issues.  In honor of Veterans’ Day, the Office hosted a training for employers on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and U.S. Attorney Ortiz presided at a ceremony honoring the dozens of veterans and servicemembers who work in the Moakley Federal Courthouse. 

The Civil Rights Enforcement Team which U.S. Attorney Ortiz created in June 2010 will maintain responsibility for investigating and prosecuting criminal civil rights violations such as hate crimes, damage to religious property, deprivation and conspiring to deprive constitutional rights and human trafficking, including involuntary servitude, forced labor, and sex trafficking of children.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Ted Merritt will continue to oversee the work of the Team.

For more information on the Office’s civil rights efforts, please visit  For more information on the Department of Justice’s civil rights effort, please visit

Updated February 17, 2016

Civil Rights