Author Archive

Zip Codes Matter

Posted on April 11th, 2014 by

By Melvina Ford, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Center

It is a simple fact that zip codes matter. When my now four-year-old son was about to be born, I drove a bit of distance to deliver him at a hospital that I handpicked for its high quality medical care. Shortly after I had my son, I had to take a trip in the back of an ambulance to a much closer hospital in my own neighborhood that I was not particularly fond of.  Today, both my son and I are wonderfully healthy, but we have since moved to a neighborhood with a hospital that I know provides superior medical care (which is convenient, as my son believes that a super hero costume actually gives him the power to fly).

The point of this story is that zip codes matter.  They matter to the quality of health care you receive. They matter to the education your children get.  They even matter when it comes to quality of the produce you buy at the local grocery store.

A group shot of representatives from the Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the Equal Rights Center.

A group shot of representatives from the Fairfax County Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs, the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the Equal Rights Center.

Today marks the 46th anniversary of passage of the Fair Housing Act. This landmark piece of legislation ensures the right of any individual to choose where they live, free from unlawful discriminatory treatment. It challenges the patterns of segregation and poverty that so often result from housing discrimination, and it highlights our responsibility —as both advocates and professionals that deal in housing issues every day—to ensure that we are fostering diverse, healthy and inclusive communities. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Corporate Partnerships and Training, Fair Housing
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Equal Pay for Equal Work

Posted on April 8th, 2014 by

African American woman and home building siteToday is Equal Pay Day in the United States—a day to acknowledge and reflect upon the gender pay gap that currently persists within our borders.

April 8, 2014 is not an arbitrary date on the calendar.  Equal Pay Day marks how far into the current year women must work to match what men earned in the previous year. To achieve the same salary as a man in 2013, on average, women needed to work an additional 3 months and 8 days – or until April 8, 2014.

The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963 and requires employers to provide equal pay to men and women conducting the same jobs.  Despite major gains in the 50 years since the passage of the law, progress has slowed to a standstill in the fight for equal pay. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the gender pay gap has not budged in over a decade. In 2002, women in the U.S. made 77 percent of what men made. In 2012, that picture was the same. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Fair Employment
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My Journey to the ERC

Posted on March 31st, 2014 by

By:  Melvina Ford, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Center

My grandmother, Carrie Ford, was born in 1904 in Pike County, Mississippi.  She raised nine children and, I’m told, she left Mississippi after taking some rather proactive steps to protect her eldest daughter from a race-based physical attack.  At some point during the The Great Migration, she made her way out west via, East St. Louis, to California. She passed away when I was 7 years old, so I never had the chance to talk to her about her journey, but what I know and surmise must have been her struggles still inspire me today.

Many years later, I found my way out of California to D.C. for a summer internship at the NAACP Washington Field Office. It happened to be the summer of 1990, when lawyers from the Legal Defense & Education Fund were in town from New York working to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Those lawyers graciously let me tag along with them as they made their case for passage of the Act to a long list of Congressional staffers.  I don’t remember the names of those amazing lawyers, but I do remember the outrage I felt hearing the story of Brenda Patterson, a woman who was harassed because of her race and whom the Supreme Court held had no legal remedy.  I also remember making the decision that summer to go to law school, so I could be just like those lawyers.  (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights
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The ERC Welcomes New Executive Director

Posted on March 28th, 2014 by

Melvina Ford

We are pleased to announce that Melvina Ford, a presidential appointee to the U.S. Department of Labor, will join the ERC as its new Executive Director on April 1, 2014. Melvina’s appointment is the result of a nationwide search following Executive Director Don Kahl’s decision last year to retire at the end of March 2014.

Melvina comes to the ERC from the U.S. Department of Labor, where she was appointed by the Obama Administration to serve as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division and Acted for the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy.  At the Department of Labor, Melvina managed the Department’s full regulatory agenda, advised the Acting Secretary on policy issues, and coordinated with the Executive Office of the President and other federal agencies. The scope of her work included regulations designed to promote the employment of veterans and individuals with disabilities by federal contractors, to raise the wages of low-income workers in guest worker visa programs and various industries, and to protect the health and safety of workers. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights
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Fake Service Dogs Cause Headache for Disability Community

Posted on March 20th, 2014 by

Service dogBy Catherine Johnson, ERC Communications and Development Intern

Take a moment and Google “service dog vest” or “service dog gear.”

For only $60, you can have your family pet pass as a service dog. Think of all the possibilities! Think of all the money you could save on boarding fees when you go on vacation! Heck, you could even bring your dog to dinner—he never did like being alone…

Across the restaurant there is a blind man with his guide dog being asked to provide identification and credentials. He doesn’t have a certificate with him (it’s not required by law), so it looks like they’re not getting in. Lucky for you and Spot, you have a $60 vest and ID tags, so you’re safe. Plus, Spot’s a Labrador, and the blind man’s dog is a mutt. It only makes sense that Spot is the “legitimate” service dog. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Disability Rights
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Newest ERC Report Finds Evidence of Housing Discrimination against Older Same-Sex Couples

Posted on February 25th, 2014 by

CoverIn the past several weeks, some state legislatures across the county have been working to enact legislation that would have the effect of giving businesses, and potentially even police and firefighters, the right to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately, these actions are just another demonstration of the discrimination that same-sex couples encounter every day.

Today, the ERC unveiled the results of a 10-state testing investigation documenting adverse and differential treatment against older same-sex couples seeking housing in senior living facilities.

The report, titled “Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex Couples,” documents the results of 200 matched-pair telephone tests conducted by the ERC in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington. In 96 of the 200 tests (48 percent), a tester inquiring about housing in a senior living facility for a same-sex couple experienced at least one form of adverse differential treatment, as compared to a counterpart tester inquiring about the same housing for an opposite-sex couple.

“This investigation is the first of its kind to focus on providing objective, quantitative data specific to older same-sex couples seeking senior housing,” said Don Kahl, Executive Director of the ERC. “Older LGBT individuals face many unique challenges when seeking housing at senior-living facilities, and discriminatory practices cause further, undue hardship in the lives of LGBT seniors at a time when financial resources are often becoming more limited.” (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Fair Housing, LBGT Rights
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Removing Attitudinal Barriers against Persons with Disabilities

Posted on February 10th, 2014 by

Kat_TaylorBy Kat Taylor, Disability Rights Program Manager

The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.

-The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

To date, 139 nations have ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, the CRPD is a landmark international human rights treaty that protects and promotes the rights of people with disabilities around the world.   Although President Obama signed the treaty in 2009, embarrassingly, the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify the CRPD. (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Disability Rights
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ERC Releases Sexual Harassment and Fair Housing Toolkit

Posted on February 3rd, 2014 by

CoverThe ERC is proud to announce the publication of our newest self-advocacy toolkit, which adds to the ever-growing list of ERC resources available to those who face discrimination in housing. The Sexual Harassment and Fair Housing Toolkit addresses the issues that many individuals face regarding unwanted sexual harassment in a housing environment.

“This toolkit is a valuable resource for any individual who faces, or has faced, unlawful and unwanted sexual harassment in a rental housing setting,” said Melissa Rothstein, Deputy Director of the ERC. “This toolkit clearly and concisely advises tenants the protections they have against sexual harassment under the Fair Housing Act, and provides the tools for individuals to respond when they experience this type of discrimination.”

Sexual harassment – such as unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature – is against the law and considered a form of sex discrimination. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits sex discrimination that impacts the terms or conditions of housing, is used as a basis for housing decisions, or otherwise has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with housing rights, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. Many states, counties, and cities have laws with additional protections against sex discrimination and sexual harassment in housing.

To download a PDF of this report, click here.

To request a hard copy of the toolkit, send us an email at


*The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication.  Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

Categorized as Advocacy, Civil Rights, Fair Housing
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Is Virginia really for lovers?

Posted on January 31st, 2014 by

By Grant Beck, ERC Communications Associate

One of the most iconic representations of my home state is the omnipresent mantra “Virginia is for Lovers.” Bumper stickers, magnets, and t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase can be found all over the Commonwealth. And what’s not to love? Few states in the Union can boast the rich and storied history of the Old Dominion. The landscape varies from pristine coastline, to richly-colored woods, to majestically blue-tinged mountain ranges. The brilliant, revolutionary minds of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all called the state home. Virginia, it seems, is indeed for lovers.

Except, when it isn’t.

Last week, the Virginia General Assembly had two pieces of legislation to consider, both dealing with the on-going struggle for LGBT equality. The first bill, SB248, attempted to enact a statewide ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, making it illegal for employers to discriminate against LGBT workers. The bill’s language was similar to newly-elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order banning LGBT discrimination against all state employees. The employment non-discrimination bill vote deadlocked in subcommittee, making it ineligible to move to a vote in front of the full State Senate (one half of Virginia’s bicameral legislature). (more…)

Categorized as Advocacy, LBGT Rights
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MHRP Changes the Model of Accessibility

Posted on December 5th, 2013 by

By Victoria Lanteigne, Corporate Partnerships and Training Manager

MHRP Members Meeting

MHRP member representatives arrive for the 5th Annual MHRP Meeting in November. Currently, the MHRP has 18 members dedicated to promoting accessibility in housing.

In 2008, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) started a pilot program with the goal of increasing the number of residential housing units and properties in the United States that are accessible to persons with disabilities.  The program sought to change the way that multifamily housing development, construction, and management companies approached accessibility. All too often, the ERC had found, the approach to accessibility was reactive. Apartment and condo developers and builders would construct multi-million dollar complexes, only to find themselves spending incredibly large sums to remove barriers to accessibility, after the fact.

Since its founding, the ERC’s unique Multifamily Housing Resource Program (MHRP) has offered a new approach to accessibility issues. The MHRP focuses on proactively ensuring that multifamily units and complexes comply with federal and local regulations to promote accessibility for all prospective tenants. Through a variety of resources, the MHRP helps its members enhance compliance with the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other applicable state and local laws.

After five years of work, the MHRP has grown exponentially to 18 members, including developers representing more than 600,000 apartments and condominiums across the country, architectural design and accessibility firms, and accessibility-related product and service vendors. These industry leaders serve as models for the housing industry, and give many of the nation’s 57 million individuals with disabilities the opportunity to live where they choose. (more…)

Categorized as Civil Rights, Corporate Partnerships and Training
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