Civil Rights Enforcement Efforts in North Dakota
Findings and Recommendations
two factfinding meetings conducted by the North Dakota Advisory Committee to the
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights yielded an abundance of information outlining
civil rights enforcement issues in North Dakota. Representatives of Federal,
State, and local entities, the business community, private/community
organizations, and individuals provided information, views, and available data
Advisory Committee is disappointed that the Governor did not accept invitations
to appear at either of the factfinding meetings. Although the Advisory Committee
was advised by his representative that the Governor would submit a statement of
his position on the establishment of a human rights commission for the record,
this was not forthcoming. Additionally, the chairman of the Interim Judiciary
Committee of the North Dakota Legislature, studying the discrimination issue,
did not accept invitations to appear before the Advisory Committee.
the views of the two principal elected officials most influential at this time
in determining future State action in the area of civil rights enforcement were
not heard. The Advisory Committee regrets this absence of participation and is
hopeful that it does not signify a lack of interest in critical issues of
discrimination. Without the active involvement of the Governor and key
legislative leaders, it is unlikely that additional meaningful initiatives in
State civil rights enforcement will occur.
one of the mandates of the Legislative Interim Judiciary Committee was to study
the extent of discrimination in the State. While the Interim Judiciary Committee
did consider this issue, it was only one of several matters occupying its
attention. Furthermore, no provisions were made for academic or scientific
research to determine the extent of discrimination in North Dakota. The Interim
Judiciary Committee did solicit some testimony but ultimately limited its
recommendation to a fair housing measure, failing to address whether a
comprehensive civil rights enforcement mechanism should be established.
Interim Judiciary Committee did recommend for the 1999 legislative session the
introduction of House bill 1034 to modify the current housing discrimination
laws, and to designate the North Dakota Department of Labor as the agency
responsible for receiving and investigating housing discrimination claims.
demographic face of North Dakota is changing at an increasing rate, and the
State has an obligation to further address issues of discrimination. Many forms
of discrimination have been ongoing in the State for several decades, and it
appears that limited accomplishments have been realized to solve those issues.
The North Dakota Advisory Committee concludes that the creation of the North
Dakota Human Rights Act was a major stepping stone for the State to address
discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, mental
or physical disability, marital status, public assistance, employment, public
accommodations, housing, State and local government service, and credit.
However, the Human Rights Act lacks effective administrative enforcement
mechanisms to accomplish its mandate.
the State has in place the North Dakota Department of Labor to accept and
process employment discrimination complaints, citizens continue to be
dissatisfied with its service,
and there are no other State agencies in operation to address the other myriad
areas of discrimination protected under the North Dakota Human Rights Act.
Several State agencies regularly receive and attempt to refer discrimination
concerns and complaints; however, very few maintain any records of the number or
types of calls received. This makes it virtually impossible to determine the
extent that North Dakota citizens are experiencing discrimination, and
particularly what impact discrimination has on minorities, women, and people
meet the growing need to fight discrimination in the State, a number of
private/community organizations have been forced to expand their scope of
service by offering at least referral information, when possible. Unfortunately,
they find it frustrating, not only for themselves, but for people who are
desperate for help when the reality of the situation is, there is very little
assistance available. These agencies have done their best, but shrinking budgets
for nonprofit organizations have caused many to cut back the limited services
once provided. This has left North Dakota residents even more disempowered and
discrimination continues to occur in relation to fair housing, equal employment,
and education, to name a few, particularly against Native Americans, other
minorities, refugees, women, families with children, older persons, and people
with disabilities. North Dakota is home to the Fort Berthold, Spirit Lake,
Standing Rock, and Turtle Mountain Indian reservations and the Trenton Indian
Service Area, in addition to Native American people living in rural and larger
cities in the State. Native Americans account for over 25,000 State citizens or
6 percent of North Dakota抯 population梐 small number, but they are greatly
affected by discrimination. And, a number of
communities in North Dakota have growing minority and refugee populations.
populations of the State have encountered disparate treatment while trying to
obtain or further their education, become gainfully employed, or compete in the
business community. People with disabilities find discrimination in the same
segments in addition to limited (or no) access in housing or public
accommodations as they try to pursue life to the fullest. Women continue to
experience discrimination most prevalently in employment and housing, while
older residents most often experience age discrimination in employment.
conclusions of the Advisory Committee are:
Employment, housing and other forms of discrimination are a reality in North Dakota. State and local governmental consideration and resolution of discrimination can only make North Dakota a better place to live and work for all of its citizens.
Antidiscrimination provisions of the North Dakota Human Rights Act are not well publicized and not readily known by the general public. The act抯 effectiveness is reduced because of the absence of a State agency to enforce it. State agencies and citizens who represent community-based or private organizations are aware of North Dakota抯 Human Rights Act, and are eager to see the act strengthened and enforced.
Except for employment discrimination complaints, other violations of Federal statutes must be lodged with enforcement agencies in Denver, Kansas City, or Washington, D.C. Few complaints are filed due to the remoteness of these agencies and the lack of information about procedures. Additionally, the North Dakota Department of Labor is provided inadequate financial resources to investigate properly and resolve employment discrimination complaints, and has no jurisdiction with regard to other issues of discrimination covered under the North Dakota Human Rights Act. Furthermore, it lacks enforcement authority.
North Dakota Advisory Committee believes that the Governor, State legislators,
city officials, law enforcement officers, and others entrusted with protecting
its citizens from all forms of discrimination should ensure that local, State,
and Federal mandates are carried out and enforced to the fullest extent for
improved protection of all North Dakotans.
Dakota citizens need local and State mechanisms in operation where they can
voice concerns, seek information, obtain assistance, and when necessary file
discrimination complaints. These mechanisms
should have the ability to negotiate, conciliate, mediate,
and enforce findings of discrimination on behalf of citizens.
North Dakota Advisory Committee hopes that the Governor, State legislature,
community organizations, and North Dakota citizens rally together to actively
promote and take significant steps to work toward eradicating discrimination in
the State. Although there have been numerous attempts to address the issue of
discrimination in North Dakota, including the establishment of the North Dakota
Department of Labor; passage of the North Dakota Human Rights Act; and a study
of the need for a human rights commission through the work of the Interim
Judiciary Committee of the North Dakota State Legislature, numerous forms of
discrimination are still prevalent. Further, because the Interim Judiciary
Committee did not make a recommendation regarding the establishment of a human
rights commission or determine the extent of discrimination in the State, the
North Dakota Advisory Committee has identified a number of recommendations for
solutions have been echoed over the years with regard to strengthening the North
Dakota Human Rights Act, an extremely important piece of legislation that has
been on the books for 15 years.
Advisory Committee recommends:
Determine the Extent of Discrimination in the State. The State
should fund a scientifically valid research project to determine the extent of
discrimination in North Dakota. This study should be designed and administered
by well-qualified academic experts. It should be undertaken without delay. In
addition, the State should require all State agencies and departments to
maintain documentation of all inquiries received that allege discrimination.
Uniform criteria should be developed for gathering and maintaining these data,
which would be used to formulate more effective antidiscrimination procedures.
Timelines for reporting data should also be established.
Publicize and Review Procedures for Filing Complaints.
All State agencies receiving and/or administering Federal funds should
publicize their procedures for filing complaints under title VI of the Civil
Rights Act and other related civil rights provisions that prohibit
discrimination in federally assisted programs. These
procedures should be reviewed to ensure they are adequate
and provide for effective public access and prompt investigation and
Create a Human Rights Commission. The
State of North Dakota should establish a human rights commission and fashion it
to be as independent as possible from unwarranted political interference. The
State should provide this new commission with adequate funding and staffing
resources. It is possible that a reorganization and consolidation of current
functions might yield sufficient resources to undertake this without the need
for additional State revenues. The human rights commission should have full
investigative and enforcement powers. In addition, it should be authorized to
provide education, outreach, and technical assistance to employers, housing
providers, and other institutions covered by civil rights laws, as well as to
victims of discrimination. The commission should also be empowered to engage in
mediation, conciliation, and dispute resolution. The commission should be
visible, accessible, and act as a clearinghouse for statewide civil rights
matters. Its membership should reflect the diversity of the State抯
Consider Local Human Relations Commissions. Finally, North Dakota抯
major cities and counties should consider establishing local human
relations commissions to assist in resolving and mediating community conflicts,
providing education and outreach, and promoting diversity
This law would make the State statute equivalent to Federal fair housing
measures, thereby qualifying North Dakota to receive U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development funding.
See chap. 2.
U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Summary Population and Housing Characteristics, CPH𢴑6, 1990,
table 4. According to this same table, North Dakota抯 total population is
See chap. 1.
The North Dakota Human Rights Act was established in 1983.