Civil Rights Enforcement Efforts in North Dakota

Chapter 7

Findings and Recommendations


The 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 willingly.

The 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.

Therefore, 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.

Additionally, 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.

The 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.[1]

The 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.

Although 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,[2] 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 with disabilities.

To 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 frustrated.

Systemic 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.[3] And, a number of communities in North Dakota have growing minority and refugee populations.

Minority 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.

The conclusions of the Advisory Committee are:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.[4]

  3. 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.


The 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.

North 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.

The 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 consideration.

Many 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.[5]

The Advisory Committee recommends:

1. 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. 

2. 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 resolution.

3. 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 population.

4. 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  


[1] 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.

[2] See chap. 2.

[3] 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 638,800.

[4] See chap. 1.

[5] The North Dakota Human Rights Act was established in 1983.