Let’s repeat that: Make … Minnesota … discrimination … free. The simplicity of this mission statement of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights surely belies the enormity of the task.
But it’s a task well-worth accomplishing, according to Minnesota Commissioner of Human Rights Kevin Lindsey. Speaking at the latest “Coffee with Commissioners” event, sponsored by MCF and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, he emphatically stated that fairness and equity are not just morally right — they are fundamental to our economic system.
Opening his conversation with nonprofit and philanthropy representatives, Lindsey explained how his personal and professional background guides his work to end discrimination. He has 20 years of professional experience working in law and public policy, specializing in such areas as employment law for persons with disabilities. Personally, he has been involved in all sorts of nonprofit activities, from promoting music education for children of color to supporting senior services.
Speeding Review of Employment Discrimination Cases
Most citizens know the Department of Human Rights for its work with employment discrimination claims. Since joining the department, Lindsey has committed to review all cases (previously cases were dismissed for lack of resources) and to speed up the review and appeal process.
During his first year on the job, the number of cases investigated has almost tripled, and turn-around for appeals has gone from 60 to 30 days.
Creating Workforce Opportunities for Minorities
Beyond handling employment discrimination cases, Department of Human Rights staff members also work to create workforce opportunities for women and minorities and manage contract compliance, ensuring businesses that seek state contracts comply with equal opportunity requirements.
Lindsey recently made news when he announced that more than 30 percent of construction jobs should be filled by people of color and women. The new target was set following an analysis of newly released census data.
Lindsey challenged the concerns of contractors and others who claim minority job candidates lack the requisite education and skills. He cited the work of Dr. Algernon Austin, author of Uneven Pain: Unemployment by Metropolitan Area and Race, published in June 2010 by the Economic Policy Institute. The report cites Minneapolis-St. Paul for having the highest unemployment disparity between whites and blacks in the country, even when educational profiles are the same. (For more on what several MCF members are doing to address employment gaps, read MCF’s Giving Forum article: “Is Convening More Than a Buzz Word? How Funders and Nonprofits Attack Workforce Disparities.”)
Preventing Disparate Treatment or Impact
While Lindsey acknowledged the role of personal responsibility (to obtain an education, etc.), he also called out external factors: “What are the unspoken impediments to people participating in the economic marketplace.” He emphasized that more direct, authentic dialogue is needed to eliminate discrimination and disparities.
An example he cited is how the Department of Human Rights can convene representatives from across state government to facilitate productive discussions about ending homelessness. Homeless individuals include everyone from veterans to children; their needs range from employment training, to mental health treatment, to location of housing and more. With five or more state departments immersed in the issue, Lindsey and his staff are in a unique position to pull them all together to identify shared solutions.
Don’t Miss Next “Coffee with Commissioners”
Commissioner Lindsey’s conversation was just one in a multi-year series of events featuring Minnesota executive branch officials. You still have a chance to speak directly with:
April 26: Lucinda Jesson, Department of Human Services
May 24: Thomas Landwehr, Department of Natural Resources, and Paul Aasen, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
Both discussions will be excellent opportunities to learn about government actions that affect the issues you care about most.
- Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services