The Michigan Department of Civil Rights is pushing for the nation’s first state bias incident database to bolster investigations of LGBT, race, and sex discrimination in employment and state services.
The agency announced Feb. 1 that it will capture data of incidents that don’t necessarily rise to the level of a formal complaint or crime by aggregating data from private groups and incidents reported to the department. The data will include reports that occur at private and public settings across the state, including incidents at work, housing and education, among other settings.
This type of data currently falls through the cracks, Michigan Department of Civil Rights Director Agustin Arbulu told Bloomberg Law Feb. 1. Tracking it could help the department better investigate discrimination and tailor training to communities across the state based on which kinds of discrimination are more prevalent in each community.
The move is in line with the agency’s stance toward expanding investigations LGBT discrimination. Last year the agency became the first in the country to side-step a Republican legislature that for decades had rebuffed legislative efforts to expand discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The agency will also hold hearings on incidents of hate and bias in the state, as requested in a Jan. 30 letter from the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission.
Agency Authority in Legal Limbo
The announcement comes at a time when the agency’s stance toward investigating and prosecuting LGBT employment discrimination appears to be in a rare legal limbo.
On Feb. 1 Attorney General Dana Nessel (D) told the commission that she would review a prior formal opinion from former Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) in which he said the agency lacked authority to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Thus far the agency has ignored Schuette’s opinion and had 13 open investigations into LGBT discrimination.
“Since, to my knowledge, the MCRC has not yet attempted to enforce this interpretive statement against anyone, I am unaware of any legal challenge to the interpretive statement,” David Kallman, an attorney who represented GOP legislators opposing the commission’s interpretation, told Bloomberg Law in a Jan. 31 email. Kallman said lawsuits would come if the commission seeks to enforce its authority, and he would be willing to represent those businesses.
New Discrimination Crimes Division
Nessel also announced that she is opening a new bias crimes division in her office. Erin Knott, interim director of Equality Michigan, told Bloomberg Law Feb. 1 that both efforts will help increase recognition of discrimination against LGBT and minority Michiganders.
“I think the announcement made today by the commission will help document and make a transparent process that will showcase just how much this is happening,” she said.
Arbulu said he hopes to launch the state database in 45 to 60 days.