What Ever Happened to Human Rights?

City and State to Discrimination Victims: Drop Dead

The New York State Division of Human Rights is arguably in even worse shape today with a backlog of close to 10,500 cases—even though there were nearly 17,000 when it was sued in 1994 in NYS/NOW v. Pataki. (The numbers are down in part because some old cases were thrown out after plaintiffs or witnesses were lost.) "We didn't endorse Mario Cuomo in 1994 because he wouldn't settle the case," said former NOW state president, Noreen Connell. Things are still so bad that David Raff, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said that Pataki's recent call for passage of the gay rights bill was "pandering—telling the gay community you'll get rights but not putting in a single dime to support those rights." Complainants to the division face a wait of "seven to 10 years," Raff said, by which time it is often impossible to assemble case witnesses.

The state gay bill passed the assembly January 28 as it has for years, this time by a record 115-to-27 margin. The Republican-run senate has refused to vote on it for 31 years, despite Pataki's support and, more recently, that of Majority Leader Joe Bruno. But Joe Grabarz, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda, which lobbies for the bill, is not trying to get more money for the state Human Rights division that will have to enforce it. "It will be on our agenda as soon as we're included in the law and not a moment before," he said. He favors "systemic reform" of the agency, not more money.

Councilmember Christine Quinn: "Giuliani had us fighting on so many fronts that we couldn't protect them all."
photo: Richard B. Levine
Councilmember Christine Quinn: "Giuliani had us fighting on so many fronts that we couldn't protect them all."

Matthea Marquart, president of NOW/NYC, said Pataki "is saying to corporations, 'You locate here and we'll stall your Title VII claims.' The Division of Human Rights has become a corporate perk."

Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller H. Carl McCall wrote separate letters to Pataki in January urging him to boost the division. McCall cited his October audit showing that "case processing time has increased" and called on Pataki to settle the case with NOW. Cuomo said that the "massive backlog" necessitates an increase in the division's budget from $12.5 million to $37 million annually. (Pataki has put in for a $35,000 increase.)

Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, said backlogs at the city and state human rights commissions have been a "chronic problem" going back to the days when Eleanor Holmes Norton headed the city agency in the 1970s. "They need budgets sufficient to the size of the problem," he said, "which on race, gender, and sexual orientation is huge."

"It's Time to Enforce the Law: A Report on Fulfilling the Promise of the New York City Human Rights Law" is online at www.abcny.org.

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