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Bar News - January 18, 2008


Hollman Award Winner Is Champion of Human Rights

By:

 
Katharine Daly

Katharine Daly, recently retired executive director of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, will receive the 2008 Hollman Award for Gender Equality at the NHBA Midyear Meeting on February 15.  Daly, who began her work with the Commission in 1994 as an investigator, was appointed its director in 1999.         

The Commission for Human Rights is a state agency established for the purpose of eliminating discrimination in many areas of everyday life, such as employment, public accommodations, housing, age, sex,  race, creed, color, etc. It receives and investigates complaints and also attempts to educate the public and NH businesses to help prevent discrimination.

           

Daly believes that the Golden Rule is a good starting place for due process.  “I told my staff to treat those coming before the Commission, whether the charging party or the respondent, as they would want to be treated,” she says.  “Be objective, but develop a sense of urgency about each case.  Ask yourself what you would think of the process if the case involved your own son or daughter – or mother or father.”  Even though the cases are often sad, she also told her staff, “Try to have fun in your job, too.”

           

At her farewell retirement event, held at Franklin Pierce Law Center on Nov. 29, Daly received the thanks and good wishes of her many friends and co-workers.  There was a surprise visit from former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, under whom Daly worked in her early years as director.  Daly also received a written commendation from Gov. John Lynch, who could not be present, but sent his congratulations and best wishes.  His commendation was read aloud to the assembly by Assistant Director of the Commission Roxanne Juliano.  (See Bar News, Dec. 14.)

           

A 1982 graduate of Franklin Pierce Law School, Daly worked for Upton, Sanders & Smith in Concord from 1982-1988, then had her own practice from 1989-1994.  She became interested in employment discrimination law during her years of solo practice.  She had the unique opportunity in 1983 of representing Leonard Briscoe in an employment discrimination case (on appeal from the Commission) in Superior and then in the NH Supreme Court (E.D. Swett v.  Commission for Human Rights)

           

As part of the decision handed down by the Court in the Briscoe/Swett case, the Court affirmed that the Commission had the discretion to award attorneys fees to successful charging parties in discrimination cases.  This was an encouraging step, since at the time the case was heard, the state’s anti-discrimination law contained no provision regarding compensatory damages.  Such cases often had little monetary value at stake, making it difficult for victims of discrimination to find attorneys to represent them.

           

While in private practice Daly also worked as a part-time hearing officer for the State Department of Education, hearing appeals under the special education laws.  At the time, the challenge to the state was to get these cases resolved in a timely fashion.  The Department hired five part-time hearing officers, including Daly, to hear appeals.  Daly enjoyed the work and the challenge to improve the system.

           

As a result, Daly became more interested in administrative law.  “I found it fun and challenging to try to make a law work as the legislature wrote it,” she says.  She started looking for a full-time position in administrative law.

           

The NH Commission for Human Rights has seven commissioners, appointed by the governor and approved by the executive council.  In 1994, the legislature created an additional three investigator positions at the commission, bringing the total to six.  Daly was hired in August 1994, as part of the effort to reduce caseloads and case processing times at the Commission.  Four years later; in 1998, she became the Commission’s assistant director and in March 1999 she was named its executive director.

 

Eliminating Discrimination

           

Daly says there are two mandates in Commission work: to prevent discrimination – and when it is found, to eliminate it.  “But,” she said, “the Commission is not out to ‘get’ the employer.  The Commission wants a credible system that works for everyone.”  The goal is a system that is “fair, efficient, and with the final product being justice.”

           

She stresses the importance of having a well-trained staff to produce quality work.  “I believe that training employees is an important part of administering the law,” she says.  Investigators come from all walks of life, all kinds of backgrounds.  The commission has had investigators with legal backgrounds, those with experience as police officers, mediators, and human services personnel.

           

About 350 formal charges are filed with the Commission each year, and the staff fields thousands of phone calls or other contacts.  Investigators may perform interventions, often over the telephone.  For example, in a potential case of housing discrimination based upon familial status, a woman with four children who was trying to purchase a mobile home was unable to obtain the consent of the mobile home park manager to the sale.  The Commission investigator worked with the park owner and resolved the case so that the family was able to purchase their own home.  This is just one of many such instances in which an investigator can help keep cases from going on to the already crowded courts.

           

All discrimination complaints must be filed with the Commission first; then the filing party has the option to hand the case over to the court.  However, the advantage of letting the Commission try to resolve the matter is that such a process is more cost effective all around.  A case may still go to the court on appeal from the Commission, though.

 

A Changing Society

           

As might be expected in a rapidly changing society, categories considered by the Commission have changed too.  When the state anti-discrimination law was first passed in 1965, the only protected categories were creed (religion), race, and national origin.  The legislature soon added sex and age, followed by handicapped (now disability), and marital status.  Familial status was added in housing.  Eventually, sexual orientation was added.  New Hampshire now has broad protection against discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment. 

           

A growing area of discussion in civil rights is the issue of gender identity, as transgender and transsexual persons are more openly making their needs known.  The Commission has taken the position that transsexuals or other persons with gender identity issues are covered under the law, either under the category of sex or disability discrimination.

           

A change in the law that Daly is most excited about was the passage of SB 273, effective Jan. 2007, which requires reasonable accommodations in employment for persons with disabilities, thus making NH’s law similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  “Senator Maggie Hassan was largely responsible for this change to the law,” says Daly.  But changing the law required the work of many people to convince the legislature that passage was the right step.  NH has so many small businesses – more than 7000 – with between 6-14 employees.  The Department of Employment Security assisted the commission in presenting a series of seminars aimed at small businesses on how to comply with the law.

           

NH’s law covers age discrimination and, unlike federal law, which only covers persons 40 years of age and older, also protects younger workers.  “Young people need to be protected from employment discrimination, too,” says Daly.  “We [NH] encourage them to join the job market; they should have the same protection against stereotyping as older workers.” 

           

Says Daly, “I hope that people who seek help from the Commission are always listened to with sympathy and understanding.”

           

The Commission prides itself that it is a place where anyone can be heard – and its work is wide-ranging and rewarding.  Daly will miss being there.

           

Retirement will not find her just sitting in an easy chair, however.  Her connection with the Commission will continue as a mediator, a role which she has already taken up. She is also keenly interested in the work of—and volunteers for—the Sierra Club.

           

Read about the Midyear Meeting Gender Equality Breakfast at which Daly will receive the Hollman Award (NOTE: this link will be live for a limited time only). 

 

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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