Hot Topics in Diversity Law

Vol. 37 No. 3

By

Donna Frazier is Section Vice-Chair and the Parish Attorney for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana.

Since its inception at the 2011 Midyear Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, the Section’s “Hot Topics in Diversity Law” panel has been a highly anticipated event at Midyear Meetings. The “Hot Topics” panel focuses on current legal issues confronting diverse communities and on diversity in the legal profession. At the 2014 Midyear Meeting, six panelists discussed subjects ranging from immigration law to the school-to-prison pipeline.

This year’s panel started with Chicago attorney Bonita Hwang Cho addressing best practices in immigration law. She talked about the extraordinary length of time it can take for persons to gain U.S. citizenship through proper legal channels and the difficulties faced by families when children obtain citizenship by virtue of being born in the United States to noncitizen parents. Current immigration laws can, and often do, split these families. Ms. Cho shared her hopes that the proposed immigration reforms by the Obama Administration will address these frustrations and keep families together.

Continuing with the theme of law and family, matrimonial attorney Lester L. Barclay, author of The African-American Guide to Divorce & Drama: Breaking Up Without Breaking Down, addressed using unique cultural characteristics to resolve divorce and custody cases. He noted that all ethnic communities have unique characteristics that, if addressed during divorce and custody proceedings, leave families in the best possible position if the marital unit is broken. One example Barclay gave was the fact that African-American families are typically matriarchal in nature. During one high-profile divorce case he was handling when the couple was being particularly difficult about settling their differences regarding finances and children, Barclay called in the couple’s mothers to talk to the couple about their behavior and how it was affecting the grandchildren. Once the mothers were done “discussing” their behavior with the couple, the issues were quickly resolved.

Turning to issues of diversity in the workplace, Daniel Goldstein of Brown, Goldstein and Levy, Baltimore, Maryland, addressed the right to accessible technology for disabled Americans under the ADA. He noted that this is an issue of particular interest to state and local governments because governments often disseminate information as well as conduct hiring via their websites. Without the proper technology, dissemination via computer is particularly problematic for the blind or persons with mobility issues, and failure to implement the proper technology can lead to costly litigation for state and local governments.

What does “diversity in the workplace” really mean? Veteran Chicago labor and employment attorney, Angela Richardson-Bryant, addressed this issue by discussing how she teaches diversity and its principles to persons of non-American cultures. She noted that while diversity in the United States is generally driven by our recognition of “protected classes,” diversity in other cultures, particularly in the legal profession, might address other types of diversity such as religious practices. She noted that a focus on what diversity can add to the profession as opposed to focusing on how diversity may divide is key to obtaining an effective, diverse workforce.

Professor Sarah Redfield, of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, Concord, New Hampshire, addressed the school-to-prison pipeline. In the words of Professor Redfield, the school-to-prison pipeline describes the “continuing failures in the education system where students are incorrectly put in special education categories and placements, and/or are disciplined more harshly, achieve at lower levels, and eventually drop or are pushed out of school, often into juvenile justice facilities and prisons.” Sarah E. Redfield, The School-to-Prison Pipeline: What Are the Problems? What Are the Solutions, Diversity Voice (ABA Center for Racial and Ethnic Diversity, Winter 2014), http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/diversity/Diversity​VoiceWinter2014.authcheckdam.pdf, last visited Feb. 23 2014. Professor Redfield showed how these practices disproportionately affect minorities. She also discussed the financial costs to state and local governments, which generally finance juvenile facilities and prisons, as well as the human costs to society.

Clearly, legal issues are human issues. Native American Attorney Robert Saunooke, of Florida, wrapped up the panel by addressing the litigation revolving around the use of derogatory Native American symbols as sports mascots and explaining how the use of those symbols denigrates Native Americans and affects their self-esteem, because of what the symbols mean to their heritage. For example, Saunooke explained that the term “redskin” is actually a reference to the blood running down the face of Native Americans when they were scalped pursuant to “bounties” placed on their heads in the 1700s. He noted that while tribes have long complained about the use of Native American symbols as mascots, litigation to ban the use has been a slow process.

The panel was moderated by attorney Donna Frazier of Shreveport, Louisiana, the first female appointed Parish Attorney of Caddo Parish, Louisiana, and sponsored by the Section of State and Local Government Law.

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