by Gregory L. Wilson, Sr. with contributions from Joseph Deloney and Caroline Stephens Ryker
Even in 2018, many Indiana residents in protected classes continue to face barriers to equal access in employment, public accommodations, housing and real estate, education, and credit. Illegal and systemic discrimination is difficult to identify and correct, and the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (“ICRC”) exists to educate about and to enforce the Indiana Civil Rights Law and the Indiana Fair Housing Act, which protect individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, ancestry, national origin, and familial status. In 2017 alone, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission received 854 complaints of illegal discrimination.
ICRC’s mission is to eliminate illegal discrimination on the basis of protected class while protecting individuals from unfounded claims of discrimination through the neutral investigation of complaints and the litigation of founded claims of discrimination. To effectuate its mission, ICRC accepts complaints online, by phone at 1-317-232-2600, or in person at its downtown location at 100 North Senate Avenue, Room N300, Indianapolis, IN 46204, and ICRC intake personnel are happy to answer any of the public’s questions regarding Indiana’s civil rights laws. Once a complaint is filed, ICRC’s investigators conduct a neutral investigation to determine if a violation of law occurred. During the investigation, parties may also utilize ICRC’s free alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service to reach an agreeable resolution of the complaint. After an investigation is conducted, if evidence exists that an illegal discriminatory act occurred, then ICRC’s litigation team will pursue the case in either state court or before ICRC’s Administrative Law Judge to vindicate the public interest. ICRC staff members are subject matter experts, trained to efficiently and accurately assess complaints, resolve complaints, and assist in educating about the law, and most of ICRC’s services are offered at no cost to the public.
During 2017, 77 of the 854 complaints filed were assigned to the legal unit, resulting in 17 successful settlements and several big litigation wins. In the area of employment, Staff Attorney Michael Healy successfully litigated two cases before the Indiana Court of Appeals. Roman Marblene Co., Inc. v. Reginald Baker, race-based employment discrimination case, was originally heard by ICRC’s Administrative Law Judge, and after a finding on the merits was issued in favor of Baker and ICRC, the company appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Mr. Healy again successfully argued that Baker faced race discrimination when he was injured on the job and was not allowed to return to work, despite providing a medical note from his supervisor that released him to work, while other Caucasian employees faced no similar barriers. The company petitioned for certiorari with the Indiana Supreme Court, which Court unanimously denied petition and preserved Baker’s and ICRC’s win. Mr. Healy additionally successfully litigated Knox County Association For Retarded Citizens, Inc. v. Melissa (Cope) Davis, which helped clarify an expansive definition of disability under state law. In housing, Staff Attorney Frederick Bremer successfully litigated Commission v. Zender Family Limited Partnership before ICRC’s Administrative Law Judge, in which he obtained substantial emotional distress damages for the harmed party ($13,830.00) and actual damages ($1,170.00), along with affirmative relief in the public interest. These three cases exemplify ICRC’s dedication to Indiana’s public policy of ending discrimination as well as the enormous impact ICRC has on shaping civil rights law in the state.
In addition to directly battling illegal discrimination, ICRC is deeply committed to educating organizations, companies, landlords, associations, and individuals on their rights and responsibilities under Indiana Civil Rights Laws. ICRC has launched a Continuing Legal Education Series that provides a complete overview of the agency and an in-depth an explanation of illegal discrimination by enforcement area from ICRC’s experts. During the year, ICRC also conducts customizable training on request. Recently, ICRC released a Housing Discrimination Simulation that simulates three different kinds of Fair Housing discrimination to illustrate how difficult discrimination is to overcome. From June 18th to the 22nd, ICRC will also provide opportunities to file complaints at the Indianapolis Central Library with its Remote Complaint Intake Series. To find out more about the programs and resources that ICRC provides, visit ICRC’s events page and view ICRC’s annual report.
Gregory Wilson is the Indiana Civil Rights Commissioner.