Velasquez testifies for Office of Human Rights
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Velasquez testifies for Office of Human Rights


DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT
OFFICE OF HUMAN RIGHTS

PUBLIC OVERSIGHT HEARING
ďPerformance of the Office of Human Rights, FY2006 and FY2007 to dateĒ
Testimony by Gustavo F. Velasquez, Director

COUNCILMEMBER CAROL SCHWARTZ, CHAIR
COMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
AND GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS
COUNCIL OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

MARCH 2, 2007
6:30PM


PREPARED STATEMENT


Madam Chair Carol Schwartz and members of the Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations. I am Gustavo Velasquez, Director of the Office of Human Rights, and itís a pleasure to present testimony today on the performance of the Office of Human Rights for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 year to date. If I may Madam Chair, I would like to start by publicly acknowledging and thanking OHRís talented and committed staff, some of whom are present this evening. These individuals after all, are responsible for fulfilling the progress Iím about to report.

The mission of the Office of Human Rights is to eradicate unlawful discrimination in housing, employment, educational institutions and public accommodations in the District of Columbia. In addition to its enforcement jurisdiction, OHR is also the Districtís advocate for the practice of good human relations and mutual understanding among the various racial, ethnic and religious groups in the city.

We operate 7 different programs, as well as oversee the activities of the Commission on Human Rights. Those programs are Intake and Investigation, Mediation, Fair Housing, Legal, Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance, Language Access, and Agency Management.

Our Intake and Investigations Unit handles all incoming complaints, determines whether a prima facie case has been established, and conducts full investigations. Once the elements of a prima facie case are identified, a case is docketed, and a copy of the Complaint is shared with the Mediation Unit, which initiates steps to resolve the matter before an investigation takes full course. If the Mediation Unit cannot resolve the matter, a full investigation is then conducted. At the conclusion of the Investigation, the Investigator prepares a Summary of Findings, and the file is then forwarded to the Legal Unit for issuance of a Letter of Determination. If probable cause is found, a conciliation session is scheduled. If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, my Office certifies the case to the Commission on Human Rights for a public hearing.

The Legal Unit is also involved with many other aspects that entail legal knowledge, training and expertise. The legal unit reviews draft legislation, conduct research on the various District laws regarding employment matters and work closely with our Compliance Officer to ensure that the training we provide is consistent with existing federal and District laws.

A recent example of the legal review and analysis the Office of Human Rights conducts is our involvement during the introduction of two new protected classes over a year ago. We are very pleased to announce that ďGender identity or expression,Ē has been approved by District Council and Congress, and affords protection against discrimination to broader groups of individuals, including the transgender and transsexual population. Our second most recent protected class, genetic information, has also been approved. It is presently unlawful for an employer, employment agency, or labor organization to request or administer a genetic test to an employee or applicant for employment or membership, except under very limited circumstances. OHRís legal program is currently supporting the Mayorís Office by rendering information pertaining jurisdictions that have included discrimination against ex-offenders in their respective statutes.

Our Compliance Unit is responsible for handling conciliations, providing EEO and other training to District agencies, and engaging in outreach and education with public and private entities.

Our Fair Housing Unit handles discrimination complaints that are housing-based. They also attend community forums and neighborhood meetings to provide literature and raise awareness to both landlord and tenants concerning their rights and obligations under the Federal and Districtís housing and human rights laws. Housing cases are processed similarly to employment cases. That is, the investigative process simultaneously takes place while we attempt to reach a settlement through mediation. If mediation is successful, all parties sign a Settlement Agreement and an enforceable Order. If mediation is unsuccessful and the investigation concludes in a finding of Probable Cause, the Complainant may make a choice. The case is either certified to the Commission for a hearing or the DC Attorney General may file in Superior Court. This election only occurs in housing cases.

I wonít go into much detail pertaining the Commission on Human Rights, as the Chair person outlined earlier their functions and achievements. I just want to emphasize my commitment to working with all Commissioners as we find ways to expedite cases that have been certified by my office.

Finally, Madam Chair, let me briefly address the functions of the Language Access program. This program provides oversight and coordination with all covered District agencies. OHR has an ongoing communication with the Language Access Coalition, the Latino and Asian Affairsí offices, and other community stakeholders to ensure that the goals are consistent with the requirements of the Act. We have made some progress in implementing this program and we make every attempt to ensure that District agencies mandated to comply with this law understand their obligations.

Madam Chair and members of the Committee: let me outline specific progress we have made at the Office of Human Rights in fiscal years 2006 and 2007 to date.

With respect to our case management activities:

I will like to end my testimony by providing you a brief update of the items you raised, Madam Chair, during my confirmation hearing:

In summary, I report to this committee full attainment to the goals and objectives set for fiscal year 2006. Each of the goals was met or exceeded. In 2007 year to date, we are looking at the same or better results. Iím very optimistic of the outlook for this organization, and with your support, and that of the Mayor and City Administrator, I have no doubt in my mind that we will continue fulfilling the promise of one of the most comprehensive civil rights statutes in the Nation. I have no doubt in my mind that we will do better to improve human relations and mutual understanding between all people in our city; and, I have no doubt that we will empower District residents to seek the options and exercise the rights they have to end unlawful discrimination in the District of Columbia.

I once again thank you Madam Chair, and each member of this Committee for the opportunity to testify before you today. Iím ready to answer any questions you may have.


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