Civil Rights Enforcement Efforts in North Dakota
Organizations and Citizen
Perspectives on Discrimination
American Civil Liberties Union
Elston, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), North Dakota
chapter, explained to the North Dakota Advisory Committee that since a permanent
office was established in North Dakota in the summer of 1995, numerous
complaints have been received.
They include discrimination in employment, housing, and public
Mr. Elston said that during the first 6 months of the ACLU, North Dakota
office operation, nearly one-third of the requests for assistance involved
employment discrimination complaints against employers on the basis of gender,
race, religion, age, disability, and sexual orientation.
said that the ACLU does not have the resources to respond to those types of
complaints, and sadly, the organization was forced to decline every request for
Many cases were referred to the North Dakota Department of Labor or the North
Dakota Fair Housing Council.
On occasion, cases have been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office when
it was thought there might be a violation of Federal antidiscrimination
The ACLU does not get much feedback once individuals have been referred, and so
far, Mr. Elston said he could not recall a situation where the complainant
called back to say if he or she had been adequately served by another agency.
American Civil Liberties Union, North Dakota chapter, believes that North
Dakotans remain especially vulnerable to discriminatory practices.
In the absence of a human rights commission, employers, landlords, lending
institutions, Realtors, service providers, and vendors continue to commit
discriminatory acts that go undetected because the odds of them having to defend
themselves in court against a charge of discrimination are low.
“The absence of an effective enforcement agency creates a sense of
hopelessness for victims of discrimination,” he said.
Elston told the Committee:
There are few attorneys with experience in civil rights laws in North Dakota, and fewer [attorneys] still who are willing or able to represent victims of discrimination due to unfriendly courts, the high cost of time-consuming investigations, or conflicts of interest. Victims of discrimination are also reluctant to approach attorneys because they are unaware of remedies provided by State law. In addition, citizens fear their financial condition will worsen with the addition of potentially huge attorneys’ fees.
Mr. Elston told the North Dakota Advisory Committee, “With conservative North Dakota courts, it is almost certain that in many cases, the victims of discrimination will not prevail at the trial court level.” He cited the following example of discrimination:
A man over the age of 40 who was fired, hired an attorney to take his former employer to court. The outcome: the case was lost even though age discrimination is clearly prohibited by North Dakota’s Human Rights Act. Instead of appealing the ruling, he [the complainant] just gave up, reasoning that he had already spent $700 of his savings to lose that round, why should he risk more of his savings on another round?
man’s feeling of hopelessness prevented him from seeing his case through to
Mr. Elston said he wondered how many other victims have just given up, accepted
that there is nothing to be done about the discrimination they have experienced,
and allowed people who have violated their rights to go unpunished.
Dakota Center for Independent Living
Olson, who is disabled and a board member of the Dakota Center for Independent
Living, testified that she had personally experienced discrimination in the past
8 years. Most landlords, she said, are unwilling to widen doors, put in ramps,
or install adaptable faucet handles or doorknobs. She said after moving out of
an apartment, the landlord told her that he would no longer rent to people in
She sent the landlord information on discrimination published by the Fair
Housing Council, and apparently the landlord realized he was breaking the law
and subsequently rented to another person who used a wheelchair.
Another situation involving discrimination concerned a Bismarck business that
required patrons to eat at the bar; however, the business owner refused to
install a wheelchair ramp and disabled patrons quit patronizing that business.
In another incident, Ms. Olson said she was transported to the Bismarck airport
by ambulance, in her attempt to fly to Rochester, Minnesota, for emergency
surgery. However, she was refused service by the airline, because the
airline’s policy was that she must be able to move from her wheelchair into
the airplane seat without assistance from airline personnel.
She was forced to take an ambulance from Bismarck to Rochester, Minnesota.
a successful class action suit on a separate issue against the Bismarck Human
Services Office and the State of North Dakota,
Ms. Olson said she prevailed because she had the resources to hire an attorney,
but added that people usually do not know where to turn, and financing is also a
Green Thumb, Inc.
McBride, State project director, Green Thumb, Inc.,
discussed her work as an advocate for older workers. The agency administered 249
positions in community service in 34 North Dakota counties, and during 1995,
over 600 people were served. Green Thumb provides older Americans with training
and retraining to assist them in obtaining meaningful employment.
Green Thumb has also assisted many people with regard to age
discrimination in the workplace. And she said,
“Contrary to commonly held misconceptions, older workers tend to be supremely
good investments for business.”
Despite efforts to educate
and provide access, Ms. McBride said:
It’s really clear to me that in North Dakota we have a very long way to go. Nearly every day my work involves a story of someone that’s trying to make sense of the mixed messages that are sent both in policy and in practice. The cosmetic message is “live longer, stay well, remain independent as long as possible, we value experience, maturity, longevity,” but the overriding message in practice and policy, particularly in employment issues, seems to be don’t get sick and don’t get old.
illustrate the effect of age on employment-related decisions, she referred to a
recent study that showed that age discrimination in hiring across the United
States occurs more than 25 percent of the time.
Another study conducted by the Commonwealth Fund found that almost 2
million Americans, ages 50 to 64, wish they were back in the work force, but are
discouraged by the negative attitudes of potential employers toward hiring older
Both studies substantiate that older Americans too often face barriers to
employment totally unrelated to their ability to perform the job, she said.
It’s no surprise, then, that during the past decade, the number of age discrimination claims filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has risen, in part due to the surge in downsizing in many businesses, and also because older workers have increased awareness of their rights under Federal and State discrimination statutes.
McBride continued that Green Thumb’s experience has been that negative
attitudes about aging and stereotypes of older people are still too prevalent.
Because of this, thousands of North Dakotans are being deprived of opportunities
to remain productive and independent, and North Dakota, in turn, is deprived of
Very few negative attitudes about aging are based on fact, including the
prevalent stereotypes that people learn more slowly as they age, their minds
degenerate over time, and they cannot be trained in new technologies or learn
new complex skills.
Additional excuses include older workers cannot work as efficiently or
effectively as young people, they miss work because they get sick more often,
they are inflexible and less adaptable to change, they lose memory, and they
have less stamina.
there are good employers who are receptive to older workers, Green Thumb
continues to encounter a number of North Dakota employers who cling to outdated,
negative assumptions. They rationalize that it is too costly to invest in older
workers, she said.
practices with regard to age unfortunately represent the norm, not the
and the consequence of discrimination, particularly for women in the
State, is poverty. One client was told by a State agency that if she really
wanted to get a job, she should color her hair to cover the gray and use more
Ms. McBride said that applicants for State employment experience great
discrimination. Although the State is subject to the various employment
discrimination laws, very inappropriate and illegal questions are asked of job
applicants. Some of these are blatant forms of discrimination, and others are
and Federal laws provide a framework for protecting people; however, many people
40 and over do not know their rights and recourse for coping with
enforcement of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) has not been a
Backlogs of pending charges and the length of time for the U.S. Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to take action discourages potential claimants
from seeking relief. In addition, because of the expense involved in handling an
age discrimination case and the difficulty in establishing proof, few attorneys
will represent age discrimination plaintiffs on a contingency basis, and few
individuals have the financial resources to hire counsel.
Further, people are afraid of retaliation or rejection by future employers,
which is a major concern in North Dakota. Ms. McBride said Green Thumb refers
individuals to the North Dakota Department of Labor; however, many people who
live in rural communities are very reluctant to get help.
They are given the toll-free number to the EEOC in Denver and are told to tell
an investigator their concerns, but most of them do not pursue their complaint
because they are very fearful of employer retaliation. These people have to go
on living in their smaller community, so they do not follow up on their
complaint, many times, because they do not have the resources to continue.
North Dakota is less populated, the networks are stronger, word gets out
rapidly, and it does not take long before somebody who might have a substantive
complaint receives, coincidentally, a cold shoulder from the employment
community. In most cases,
discriminatory treatment has become more subtle, and as one court put it,
“Denying employment to an older job applicant because he or she has too much
experience, training, or education is simply to employ a euphemism that masks
the real reason for refusal, namely, in the eyes of the employer, the applicant
is too old.”
A new view of aging is needed, a perception of aging that assumes older
Americans represent opportunity rather than a crisis, a solution rather than a
problem, an asset rather than a burden, and a resource rather than a drain on
Legal Assistance of North Dakota
Catalano, executive director of Legal Assistance of North Dakota, explained that
the agency is a private, nonprofit corporation primarily funded with Federal
funds through the National Legal Services Corporation.
The agency has extensive restrictions regarding their service and very few
loopholes to represent people whose civil rights are being violated.
Federal and State laws have prohibited the agency from taking additional cases
that generate attorneys’ fees or class action cases; and as a result, it
referred out more cases than ever before.
Legal Assistance of North Dakota is focusing its services on those people who
fall through the safety net, who are the most disadvantaged, low-income people,
particularly those on public assistance.
a number of years, Legal Assistance of North Dakota has not had the resources to
take civil rights cases and has not done so.
The agency employs two staff attorneys to serve the State, which
translates into very limited resources.
In 1993 Legal Assistance of North Dakota received at least 75 contacts from
people who needed assistance with civil rights matters, and those individuals
had to be turned away.
In 1994 the agency had 61 documented contacts of people from across the State
who had to be turned away once again.
In 1995 that number doubled to 122 contacts.
These numbers do not include people who contacted Legal Assistance of North
Dakota for employment discrimination matters.
In the Fargo office, it was estimated that the agency received one call on
employment discrimination a week; unfortunately, when someone is turned away
concerning an employment issue, the agency does not track the specific bases
related to that complaint.
agency has offices across the State, however, the majority of its complaints
regarding civil rights matters have come from the Fargo office, with Bismarck
ranking second. Ms. Catalano
said that usually when people call Legal Assistance of North Dakota, it is one
of the last contacts citizens make because they have already tried other
agencies and did not get help. Her concern was that although referrals are made,
some people just say, “If Legal Aid doesn’t care, nobody cares.”
Ms. Catalano said that the agency does not have a civil rights arm to pursue a
remedy and compensation for possible damages.
the Devils Lake area, the number of contacts is very limited because of the
small community. Legal Assistance of North Dakota serves the Turtle Mountain
Indian Reservation and has a cooperative agreement with the University of North
Dakota Law School in Grand Forks to serve the Fort Totten Indian Reservation.
A number of complaints have been received from the Turtle Mountain Indian
Reservation with regard to employment discrimination and public housing
affecting Native Americans. Ms. Catalano also
said that housing discrimination occurs against Native Americans occupying
off-reservation rental properties because “owners fear that their property
will be destroyed or severely damaged.”
Ms. Catalano also told of receiving calls from Hispanic residents.
office has also received occasional calls from Native Americans who are
incarcerated and have been denied medical treatment and/or medication in a
The Devils Lake office has also received calls from non-Native Americans housed
at the State penitentiary concerning the same matter. Most of the residents in
the Devils Lake area are referred to the North Dakota State Bar Association, the
North Dakota Department of Labor, or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission. However, the agency
senses that these people very rarely make the followup contacts that are
necessary. She said that
many of the cases they see involve low-income people who cannot afford private
She said the Bismarck office received the largest number of housing
discrimination complaints, presumably because that office has been very active,
particularly concerning Native American families with children. In Dickinson,
families with mentally ill members have had personal medical information
inappropriately shared with other agencies or the public, have felt personal
pressure, and have experienced discrimination from housing providers.
Fargo and Bismarck, an occasional call is received concerning age discrimination
and those persons are assisted through the agency’s Elderly Law Project.
Ms. Catalano said she continues to have personal contact with many seniors
who are denied employment because of their age, but they rarely come into the
office to complain.
She said there are still a number of women and the elderly who live in
rural parts of the State who do not think they are suffering discrimination and
think that their treatment is normal.
Obtaining assistance is much tougher for persons living in rural areas because
of their limited knowledge of their rights, a limited number of attorneys
willing to take discrimination complaints, and the amount of effort it takes to
contact an agency that is far away.
agency tries to inform people of their rights and provide assistance, but
resources are limited and it is difficult to get information out to the public.
Legal Assistance of North Dakota provides service provider information, but not
on civil rights issues; and unfortunately, people do not always realize when
they are being discriminated against.
Catalano confirmed that her agency’s funding has been cut by one-third and is
projected to be cut another one-half next year.
Budget cutbacks have restricted extensively what federally funded legal aid
programs can do in the realm of civil legal service for people, no matter what
their needs are.
Lutheran Social Services
Nelson, director of Community Outreach Programs of Lutheran Social Services in
North Dakota, said there is a great deal of generosity on the part of the State
in terms of responding to individuals who are coming into the community, but
there is a lot of evidence of disparate treatment.
Refugees are individuals who have fled their country of origin out of fear
of persecution, and a small percentage of those individuals are found to meet
the U.S. entrance criteria and are admitted legally into the country. Because
people do enter the United States under legal and illegal circumstances,
oftentimes, individuals arriving in the country with U.S. approval are assumed
to be here illegally. Refugees arrive with little more than a piece of luggage
and skills that may or may not be transferable to their new country. They are
assisted by volunteers of Lutheran Social Services and other agencies for the
initial few months. Approximately 400 refugees each year are relocated to seven
major cities in North Dakota.
They usually have little information about their new country and much less
information about their rights, which places them in a particularly vulnerable
position. They also downplay issues and wish not to talk about things that might
be disturbing them.
Nelson said he believes that there is discrimination in North Dakota for several
reasons and acknowledged ignorance on the part of his agency as far as its role
of being an advocate. He asked the question of what could be done when
complaints are received, and added, “Already I think we have minimized their
complaints . . . because we didn’t know what to do with them.”
His comments to the Committee were in three general areas: housing,
employment, and access to services.
Lutheran Social Services’ experience with public housing has generally been
very positive. A majority of landlords and housing managers appear to be fair
and provide equal access to renters. Some exceptions have been:
housing manager who refused to continue to rent to refugees, claiming that
they had violated their rental agreement, etc. The manager challenged the
agency to charge him with discrimination.
volunteer who brought an African family to look at an apartment, and they
were denied housing with the explanation that the apartment had been rented;
however, when a Lutheran Social Services volunteer had a friend call the
owner, the friend was told that the apartment was still available.
and staff have reported discrimination concerning openings for apartment
rentals found in the newspaper. When informing an owner that the apartment
would be for a refugee family, they were told that “we don’t rent to
forms of discrimination are very difficult to identify such as tenants being
charged large amounts of money for damage charges upon moving out, and
non-English speaking tenants signing a document, thinking it is their notice to
vacate and soon finding out they had signed a lease for another 6 to 12 months.
Mr. Nelson said he was concerned with the practice of landlords expecting
tenants, before renting a property, to have a credit rating, rental history, and
the standard requirement that tenants must earn three times the amount of rent
charged. Obviously, newly
arrived refugees do not have a U.S. credit rating, and they may come from a
country where it is difficult to pass any of these background checks.
Additionally, due to the lack of established credit, refugees are vulnerable to
being taken advantage of by unscrupulous businesses offering high-risk credit.
Refugee Employment Program staff of Lutheran Social Services work with
more than 150 employers throughout the State who readily hire refugees. Again,
obvious issues arise regarding the refugees’ English-speaking abilities and
cultural differences in viewing the world of work, although the majority of
employers have dealt with those issues creatively and sensitively.
However, there have been occasions where refugee employees have been
denied raises, while increases in pay were given to other employees performing
the same job duties. Supervisors have resisted working with refugees, and they
are frequently passed over for promotions. There have been questionable firings
and individuals forced to quit.
Questions as to how worker’s compensation is handled, and the fact that
North Dakota is a right-to-work State, make it more difficult to determine an
to Services: Language barriers limit refugees’ opportunity to receive
services, although most agencies and organizations have made great strides in
accommodations, particularly when they are aware of Federal law. However, there
still remain agencies that are resistant to change and expect individuals to
bring in their own interpreter, or the resettlement agency to be responsible.
In his statement before the North Dakota Advisory Committee, Mr. Nelson alleged
the following questionable practices:
are mandated by law to participate in job training before receiving
financial assistance or food stamps; however, the programs they must
participate in communicate only in English. Therefore the individual
receives no services because translation services are not available.
16-year-old, limited-English-speaking student is turned away from public
school because there “is no space.” Limited-English-speaking students
experience delays when they register for public school, although no denial
of services has been documented.
refugee population has been publicly targeted as burdens with regard to the
costs of providing services.
Nelson said his belief is when a controversial issue such as the growing refugee
population exists, it may create a climate of hostility to those clients.
the 1997 legislative session, a law was enacted permitting driver’s license
exams to be offered in the language of the applicant. This law became
operational in August 1997; however, the service was not publicized. In the
Fargo motor vehicle office, the service was originally offered during the
agency’s general hours of operation but is now offered only during restricted
times. Non-English-speaking persons are not informed of those hours when they
call in for appointments and subsequently come in at the wrong time. Finally,
Mr. Nelson said, minority refugees are also closely watched in retail stores,
and refugee youth have been accused of involvement in fights in their respective
North Dakota Fair Housing Council
North Dakota Fair Housing Council accepts housing discrimination complaints.
Prior to this agency becoming operational, a person who alleged discrimination
in housing had to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD) in Denver or take action in district court.
North Dakota Fair Housing Council does not have enforcement authority but only
assists individuals with completing complaint forms for submission to HUD. The
North Dakota Fair Housing Council also acts as an advocate for its clients; but
the process is slow, and out of the complaints sent to HUD, only one case has
Johnson, former director of the North Dakota Fair Housing Council, explained to
the North Dakota Advisory Committee that the agency is a private, nonprofit fair
housing organization founded in 1995, with offices in Bismarck and Fargo.
The council’s main goal is to provide support, encouragement, and assistance
to all North Dakota citizens seeking equal access to housing in the State.
The North Dakota Fair Housing Council believes that equal access to housing is a
basic right of all Americans.
The dream to live where one desires can be shattered by practices where housing
providers deny available housing to persons within the protected classes.
Ms. Johnson said that when discrimination occurs, it tears at the fabric
of the community, encourages an environment where disputes escalate, encourages
racism and bigotry, and results in a loss of cultural diversity.
North Dakota Fair Housing Council monitors the level of housing discrimination
within communities through testing that is a simulated housing transaction
designed to gather information on the actual practices in the marketplace.
Ms. Johnson further explained that testing compares information given by a
landlord with two potential applicants who are exactly alike in every respect,
except for one aspect such as ethnicity, national origin, gender, or familial
status (families with children).
As an example, during 1995, 40 random tests were conducted.
The purpose of the tests was to gather information with regard to the
nature and extent of housing discrimination in North Dakota, and to learn more
about the housing market in Bismarck and Fargo.
random tests were conducted exclusively in the rental market over a period of
several months, testing primarily for national origin and familial status
Testing provides independent evidence to support a civil rights claim against a
Evidence derived from testing is the best way to confirm whether a housing
provider may be breaking the fair housing law, and Federal courts have
consistently supported fair housing testing.
North Dakota Fair Housing Council, through testing it conducted in 1995,
found that in the Bismarck-Mandan area, Native Americans experienced housing
discrimination 47 percent of the time in 15 of the random rental tests.
Overall, discrimination was detected 56 percent of the time in 18 random
rental tests, and, in general, one out of three families experienced
testing resulted in five out of six cases where Native Americans experienced
housing discrimination, for an overall discriminatory rate of 83 percent.
In 10 tests where Hispanics were the protected class, housing discrimination was
detected in eight tests, for an overall rate of 80 percent. In two tests, where
race was a protected class, a 50 percent housing discrimination rate was found.
Overall, Fargo testing garnered an 83 percent housing discrimination rate.
results of testing also pointed to the fact that Hispanics were steered to
particular areas, and families with children were asked to post higher deposits
or were denied the opportunity to rent at all.
Seventy-nine percent of the time the housing discrimination affected the
protected class financially, such as by requiring higher rent deposits and
Bismarck and Fargo offices of the North Dakota Fair Housing Council receive
anywhere from 150 to 200 phone calls each month at each office.
Many of those calls are tenant-landlord disputes that constitute possible
evidence of discrimination.
Between August 17, 1995, and August 30, 1995, the North Dakota Fair
Housing Council received 48 allegations of housing discrimination in the
following categories: age (2),
disability (16), familial status (15), gender (2), marital status (2), and
national origin (11).
North Dakota Fair Housing Council, as part of its education component, held two
seminars, one in Bismarck and one in Fargo. Over 56 attorneys attended both
sessions, and 3 attorneys identified themselves as interested in taking fair
North Dakota Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
Sweet, former executive director, North Dakota Federation of Families for
Children’s Mental Health, reiterated comments made by other presenters to the
North Dakota Advisory Committee that families who have children with mental
and/or physical disabilities are discriminated against through unfair
eligibility criteria and guidelines. Most families do not have the financial
resources to pay for services such as housing their child in an out-of-home
treatment facility, which costs approximately $70,000 per year.
Ms. Sweet said that parents have also been “put in a position of having
to walk into a court and lie” about their child’s welfare in order for that
child to receive those services.
Additionally, most out-of-home placements are made to another State, and
families do not have access to their children.
Finally, Ms. Sweet said that with the downsizing and reorganizing of advocacy
organizations, families are left with fewer and fewer options for help for their
North Dakota Mental Health Association
Armstrong, former executive director, North Dakota Mental Health Association,
said the mentally ill and seriously emotionally disturbed children and families
suffer discrimination through separation and the denial of education, insurance,
Native Americans are the most obvious of all to suffer discrimination. To
compound matters, some Native Americans do not have housing or a mailing
address, but in many cases “they are expected to do what none of us could
possibly do without getting some help or assistance.”
She added that most people who suffer from mental illness normally do not
have the energy or the ability to deal with the complicated system of filing a
complaint. She said that she has had numerous complaints and makes referrals
North Dakota Public Employees Association
Friesz, former executive director of the North Dakota Public Employees
Association, said the association is a labor organization that represents State,
county, and municipal employees,
and is well aware that discrimination does exist in North Dakota. During
his 9 years of employment with the Public Employees Association, he has received
numerous phone calls, not only from public workers, but from private sector
employees who believe they have been discriminated against.
Examples of employment discrimination include promotion denial based on
age, inequitable pay based on race, and sexual harassment.
Mr. Friesz said that until North Dakota has a mechanism that is affordable,
accessible, and expeditious in resolving complaints, “We may never know the
full extent to which discrimination exists in North Dakota.”
Friesz said that the State employees he represents have the option of filing an
employment discrimination complaint with the North Dakota Department of Labor or
they can file a grievance with the State’s Centralized Personnel System, which
is becoming far less accessible, much more costly, and is not expeditious.
He explained that it is not uncommon for an employee who has a charge, whether
discriminatory or otherwise employment-related, to spend a year or more going
through a process that has become too legalistic. If a person cannot afford
representation, he or she is in fact driven away from the process or goes
through the hearing process unrepresented.
In contrast, the agency or department is represented immediately by an assistant
attorney general from the Office of the Attorney General, he said.
The process at the State level is turning people away from having their
grievances heard before a tribunal or an independent and unbiased arbitrator,
and he suggested that things are far worse for people in the private sector.
Mr. Friesz said that time is on the discriminator’s side, and it is important
that a system be put in place whereby employees can have their grievances heard.
Protection and Advocacy Project
Boeck, supervising attorney for the Protection and Advocacy Project, explained
there is an incredibly low level of awareness of what discriminatory practices
are, which has a negative effect on people’s ability to participate fully in
our society. He gave as an
example the fact that several hotels in Bismarck lack wheelchair lifts on their
shuttle vans and have bathrooms that are inaccessible to people with
disabilities. He questioned where individuals with disabilities stay and how
they get to their destination when they come to Bismarck.
Because there are serious civil rights issues that affect many people,
extensive education and sensitivity to the Americans with Disabilities Act and
other legislation has to be heightened.
He said it is very difficult to find a plaintiffs’ attorney who specializes in
civil rights issues and who could legitimately claim much experience or
expertise in the area.
Citizen Perspectives on Discrimination
Red Eagle, a columnist for the Bismarck
Tribune, stated at the factfinding meeting that it is frustrating not to be
able to do anything about discrimination or provide those who contact her some
She said people are angry, frustrated, and have a sense of hopelessness. Ms.
Red Eagle said, because she is really “the only public voice for Native
American people in this area [North Dakota]” they expect her to write about
their discrimination cases or take some action on their behalf.
Ms. Red Eagle said, “I feel that my hands are tied as far as my ability to
refer Native American people to agencies where they can get assistance.”
shared some examples of mistreatment of Native Americans such as employers who
request employment referrals through the State Job Service and attach
instructions that say “Do not send Native Americans.”
She talked about receiving anonymous Neo-Nazi material and mail on several
occasions, and said she could not help thinking that these people are living in
this area, and they are employers, landowners, renters, shop clerks, and
business owners embracing such negative attitudes toward Indian people.
Robinson, a member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission, and former
marketing director of the Bismarck Civic Center, spoke of the insensitivity and
institutionalized racism and sexism she experienced in her employment. She told
the Committee she was called and referred to as a “nigger.” In 1991 she
filed a grievance and went through the proper chain of command, which included
her immediate supervisor, personnel director, city commissioners, North Dakota
legislators, and attorneys; and she told the North Dakota Advisory Committee
that after 5 years, there was still no change and no recourse.
Ms. Robinson did not seek the services of the North Dakota Department of
Labor because she felt it was ineffective. She considered hiring an attorney,
but the cost was prohibitive, and she believed that most North Dakota attorneys
were inexperienced in civil rights law.
the open session of the factfinding meeting, North Dakota citizens testified and
shared their personal stories of discrimination. They are mentioned below.
Portra, a Native American contractor from Underwood, North Dakota, told the
North Dakota Advisory Committee of alleged discrimination he encountered while
bidding on projects for the Rural Electric Cooperative.
Mr. Portra had bid successfully for several years on projects, but after the
electrical superintendent retired, his relationship with the cooperative changed
In 1992 Mr. Portra filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice
accusing the cooperative of bid fraud based on race because another contractor
was allowed to underbid him by $6.
He obtained two attorneys who were unable to assist him. He has made hundreds of
telephone calls, spent thousands of dollars, and basically has nowhere to turn.
Iverson of Bismarck, who has been blind since birth, reported on discrimination
from a personal and professional perspective. While working in the Office of the
Attorney General as a legal intern, she responded to telephone and written
inquiries from the general public concerning discrimination issues in
employment, housing, and transportation services, etc., for people with
She said that many people with disabilities expressed frustration with the great
amount of effort required to obtain services.
Ms. Iverson said she would try to refer complainants to an individual or
agency; however, they usually would call again frustrated and seeking additional
She also was asked to act as an advocate, but she was limited to providing
encouragement and referrals.
said she would share these cases during staff meetings, and she was encouraged
to do as much as she could, but the Office of the Attorney General did not have
the resources to help. She became known as the “handicapped expert” and she
spent her own money paying readers to research and identify referrals for
This same scenario was carried out while she was employed as a legal
assistant with the North Dakota Workers Compensation Bureau and as an
independent living counselor with an agency assisting people with alternative
living out of State for a period of time, in 1992 Ms. Iverson returned to North
Dakota and applied for services from a State agency. She was told she was not
eligible for services because her blindness did not constitute a substantial
handicap to employment.
Fortunately, an attorney agreed to represent her and it took 5 long,
difficult months to get the decision reversed. She was finally eligible for
services, but it took an additional 17 months to receive adaptive equipment
needed for employment.
McCleary, a resident of Bismarck and concerned parent, shared information at the
factfinding meeting’s open session about the difficulty she experienced in
trying to obtain services for her disabled son and enroll him in a neighborhood
school. In order for her son to receive assistance, she had to change his
Ms. McCleary called the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction for help,
and she was told that it was not an enforcement agency and could not step in and
make corrections, although it realized there were irregularities.
She said that parents would like to exercise their civil rights, but they cannot
afford to do so because the system is stacked up against them.
Muthiah of Mandan, a United Methodist minister, advocate for civil and human
rights, and chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Commission, told the
North Dakota Advisory Committee that minority people are treated differently
because of their accent, ancestry, and the color of their skin.
He shared the following examples:
American Indian treated differently from whites at a business establishment
when she attempted to write a personal check.
African American university students in Bismarck who were more closely watched than other customers as they shopped in department stores.
Sri Lankan family denied the opportunity to rent a property because of their
nationality, and also being denied employment.
mother denied housing because of her children.
Mr. Muthiah raised the question of treatment of Hispanic migrant workers regarding living conditions, the lack of persons of color employed by local TV stations, and the lack of people of color working in managerial positions in local department stores. He commented that, fortunately, Bismarck area schools and the local university and college are dealing with issues of racism, but more needs to be done.
Keith Elston, transcript of factfinding meeting conducted by the North
Dakota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in
Bismarck, ND, May 16, 1996, p. 9 (hereafter cited as Transcript
Ibid., pp. 9–10.
Ibid., p. 10.
Ibid., p. 49.
Ibid., p. 13.
Ibid., p. 14.
Ibid., p. 13. According to the North Dakota State Bar Association, there are
1,393 practicing attorneys in the State. Of that number, 21 attorneys are
identified to specialize in civil rights employment discrimination
litigation through their participation in the Lawyers Referral Program to
which they pay a fee of $50 per year and are referred potential clients from
the State Bar Association. Note: there may be other attorneys who handle
civil rights cases but are not identified.
Ibid., pp. 13–14.
Ibid. The complainant had the option to appeal the decision to a higher
Ibid., p. 15.
Eileen Olson, Transcript 2, p.
Ibid., p. 164.
Ibid., pp. 165–66. Ms. Olson was disqualified for food stamps because the
State erroneously counted federally allocated monies she received to
purchase a disabled-adapted van as income. Her class action suit settlement
required that she and others who met the requirements be reimbursed for food
stamps denied by the Human Services Department.
Connie McBride, Transcript 2, p.
26. Green Thumb, Inc., is a 31-year-old private, nonprofit organization that
operates in 44 States and in Puerto Rico. Founded in 1965, it is the
country’s first older worker employment program.
Ibid. Although services are targeted to people over the age of 55, people of
all ages are helped.
Ibid., p. 27.
Ibid., p. 28.
Ibid. This study was conducted for the American Association of Retired
Persons by the Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington.
Ibid., pp. 28–29.
Ibid., p. 29.
Ibid., p. 30.
Ibid., pp. 31–32.
Ibid., p. 32.
Ibid., pp. 32–33.
Ibid., p. 34. Green Thumb data show the average age of workers is 69.
Average income, prior to supplementary income earned through Green Thumb, is
$5,134.98 per year. Ibid., p. 37.
Ibid., pp. 35–36.
Ibid., p. 36.
Ibid., p. 50.
Ibid., pp. 50–51.
Ibid., p. 36.
Ibid., p. 37.
Linda Catalano, Transcript 2, pp.
Ibid., p. 70.
Ibid., pp. 70–71.
Ibid., p. 71.
Ibid. The agency did not have detailed statistics on the types of cases it
received, i.e., discrimination based on gender, race, or other bases.
Ibid., p. 72.
Catalano, Transcript 2, pp.
73–74. Ms. Catalano shared one example where an individual who had been
diagnosed with AIDS was denied medical treatment, and the agency was able to
resolve that situation.
Ibid., p. 75.
Ibid., p. 72.
Ibid., p. 94.
Ibid., p. 103.
 Ibid., pp. 72–73.
Ibid., p. 73. Toll-free numbers are available to citizens contacting the
North Dakota Department of Labor.
Ibid., p. 74.
Ibid., p. 75.
Ibid., p. 76.
Ibid., pp. 77, 106–07.
Ibid., p. 76.
Ibid., pp. 76–77.
Ibid., p. 104. A Federal law enacted in 1974 established the Legal Service
Corporation to fund civil legal services to poor people throughout the
country. Ibid., p. 105.
Ibid., pp. 105–06.
Barry Nelson, transcript of factfinding meeting conducted by the North
Dakota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Fargo,
ND, Sept. 24, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 58–61. Mr. Nelson works closely with the
Refugee Resettlement Program of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services
and the Episcopal Migration Ministries.
Ibid., p. 61. These individuals represent Vietnam, Iraq, the Sudan, Somalia,
Cuba, Haiti, Kurdistan, the former Soviet Union, and Bosnia, among others.
They arrive with English language capabilities that range from excellent to
Ibid., pp. 58–61.
Ibid., pp. 59, 62.
Ibid., pp. 62–63.
Ibid., p. 63.
Ibid., pp. 63–64.
Ibid., p. 64.
Ibid., p. 64.
Ibid., pp. 64–65.
Ibid., pp. 65–66.
Ibid., p. 66.
Ibid., pp. 66–67.
Ibid., p. 67.
Linda Johnson, Transcript 2, p.
Ibid., pp. 45–46.
Ibid., p. 18.
Ibid., pp. 20–21.
Ibid., p. 21.
Ibid., p. 18.
Ibid., p. 19.
Ibid. Housing providers who either had a large number or small number of
properties to rent were tested.
Ibid., p. 21.
Ibid., p. 18.
Ibid., p. 19.
Ibid., pp. 19–20.
Ibid., p. 21.
Ibid., pp. 21–22.
Elizabeth Sweet, Transcript 2, p.
377. The average length of stay is 1 year.
Ibid., p. 378.
Ibid., pp. 376–78.
Ibid., p. 380.
Myrt Armstrong, Transcript 2, pp.
Ibid., p. 67.
Ibid., pp. 66–67.
Gerard Friesz, Transcript 2, pp.
Ibid., p. 80. Friesz said that employees call his agency with the perception
that the agency is a governmental body that stands for workers’ rights.
Ibid., pp. 80–81.
Ibid., p. 81.
Ibid., pp. 82, 97.
Ibid., pp. 82–83.
Ibid., p. 96.
Dave Boeck, Transcript 2, p. 158.
Ibid., pp. 157–58.
Ibid., p. 158.
Ibid., p. 159.
Cheryl Red Eagle, Transcript 2, p.
Ibid., p. 169.
Ibid., p. 170.
Ora Robinson, Transcript 2, pp.
Ibid., pp. 184–85.
Denny Portra, Transcript 2, p.
Ibid., pp. 345–46.
Ibid., pp. 346, 351. It took approximately 18 months for the U.S. Department
of Justice to send a representative to investigate.
Ibid., p. 350. Some of the organizations contacted included the North Dakota
Indian Affairs Commission, the Federal agency hotline, the Inspector General
of North Dakota, and the Associated General Contractors of North Dakota, of
which he is a member. Ibid., pp. 355, 353, 356, respectively.
Lynn Iverson, Transcript 2, pp.
359–60. Ms. Iverson obtained her law degree in 1985 and began employment
with the Office of the Attorney General immediately after graduation until
1988. Any telephone or written inquiries were followed up with written
correspondence; however, Ms. Iverson did not know whether any type of log
was maintained. Ibid., p. 365.
Ibid., p. 360.
Ibid., p. 361.
Ibid., p. 366.
Ibid., p. 362.
Ibid., p. 363.
Carlotta McCleary, Transcript 2,
p. 371. To enroll her 5-year-old son and obtain services in the local school
system, Ms. McCleary changed her son’s diagnosis classification from
“emotional disorder” to “other health impaired.” Otherwise, he would
have been placed in a residential treatment center. Ibid., pp. 370–71.
Ibid., p. 375.
Ibid., pp. 373–74. Ms. McCleary sought the assistance of the Protection
and Advocacy Project.
Lionel Muthiah, Transcript 2, pp.
Ibid., pp. 385–86.