published Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

Tennessee Human Rights Commission battling new biases

BY THE NUMBERS

From July 1, 2010-June 30, 2011

10,893: Calls received

1,056: Inquiries resulted

673: Inquiries accepted for investigation

Source: Tennessee Human Rights Commission

ABOUT THE COMMISSION

Created in 1963 by Gov. Frank Clement as the Tennessee Human Relations Commission to advise the public on their human rights, research and make reports on human relations and report the findings to the governor.

In 1978, when the Tennessee Human Rights Act became law, it transformed the commission into an enforcement agency.

In 1983, it became the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.

Today, it prohibits discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, sex, age, disability, familial status and national origin.

Source: Tennessee Human Rights Commission


TO FILE A COMPLAINT

Visit www.tn.gov/humanrights or call 1-800-251-3589.

Discrimination still exists in Tennessee, it just looks different than it did 30 years ago, a state official says.

There no longer are signs prohibiting any racial or ethnic group from entering a business, but people are being denied access to housing and employment opportunities, said Beverly Watts, executive director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.

On Tuesday, Watts held the first roundtable discussion in Chattanooga since the commission started an outreach initiative across the state two years ago.

The goal of the program is for communities to learn and understand what the commission does and to establish partnerships, Watts told about 50 attendees representing area churches, government agencies and nonprofits.

Hamilton County ranks third in the number of housing discrimination cases filed, after Davidson and Shelby counties, and after Davidson and Knox for the number of employment discrimination cases, according to commission data.

So far this fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through June 30, 2012, there have been 82 employment and seven housing discrimination cases filed in Hamilton County, Watts said.

"We have what I call a consistently large caseload in the Chattanooga area," she said, "because people know where to go."

The Tennessee Human Rights Commission has an office in Chattanooga, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs has a program to investigate alleged hate crimes or bias incidents.

Statewide, the largest number of discrimination cases -- about 600 -- are for employment, according to the Human Rights Commission's annual report. During the 2010-11 year, the most common basis of alleged discrimination was race, followed by gender.

Any given year, the commission receives about 10,000 calls on possible discrimination cases, data shows, but less than 10 percent are accepted for investigation.

Sometimes people are afraid of being identified or too much time has passed since the alleged discrimination took place, Watt said after Tuesday's meeting at the Second Missionary Baptist Church.

"Or sometimes people want an answer right away," and they'd rather not deal with it when told it's going to take time, she said.

J. Davis, the state director for Telamon Corp., a nonprofit that works with farm workers and children from low-income families, drove from Knoxville to learn more about how she can help her clients.

"We work with families where sometimes the adults are not documented," said Davis, and they see a lot of housing discrimination.

Queston Coleman, with the Unity Group, a local civil rights organization, said discrimination still is rampant in the community.

"There's age discrimination across the board, and employment discrimination for African-American males," he said.

Overall, the commission's meeting offered some good information, Coleman said.

"If we can just bring the information back to the grass-roots level, it can have a great impact," he said after the meeting.

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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