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Meet Commissioner Lori Barreras

Commissioner Lori Barreras’s interest in civil rights started at an early age. On her first day of kindergarten, her teacher informed the class that they could speak only English at school and made name tags and stuck them on the kids, so they could learn their names. Commissioner Barreras, who is of Hispanic descent, told her teacher that her name was Lorena, and the teacher wrote that name on her sticker. But, later in the day, when the same teacher was labeling her crayon box, she decided to change Lorena to Lori. In that instant, a scared little girl was Anglicized. That moment in kindergarten, Commissioner Barreras reflects, was the catalyst for her consciousness about civil rights issues.
Commissioner Barreras began her career as a public servant with the IRS in 1990, where she developed her interview techniques and her ability to assess truthfulness and weigh evidence, skills she finds useful as a commissioner. In 1995, she began her dream job as an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigator. She was involved in one of the nation’s first HIV-related cases: an employer refused to offer a pregnant employee full-time employment after learning she had contracted HIV from her husband. Commissioner Barreras says she felt great satisfaction from personally delivering the settlement check to the young mother.
Her unique perspective comes from various experiences from the defendant and the plaintiff’s point of view. After a successful tenure at the EEOC, she was recruited to join the corporate ranks of Battelle’s human resources team. While there she modernized two different HR departments for Battelle before becoming vice president of Battelle’s largest laboratory, the Oak Ridge National Lab, which has more than 4,000 employees. Later, she joined The Ohio State University, serving as the assistant vice president for human resources. These senior leadership positions helped develop an appreciation for the employer’s perspective. 
This extensive experience has proven to be invaluable to the OCRC because most of the charges the commission receives are based on employment issues. Commissioner Barreras says most of the charges she sees are the result of an inconsistent or unfair HR policy, practice, or employee. She believes the best way to stop discrimination from happening is to understand the importance of consistently applying HR practices, policies, and disciplinary decisions and using those practices to create the right culture within an employer. She believes that once discriminatory actions are discovered, they should be dealt with promptly and uniformly. In her experience, one of the biggest challenges for some large organizations is consistency. Commissioner Barreras believes it is important to have someone who can see an organization’s big picture in order to promote consistent practices throughout the company.     
Commissioner Barreras wants to assure the public that the commissioners will do a thorough job. They will be fair, hear all sides, and try to arrive at reasonable remedies. For those who may appear before the commission as respondents, charging parties, or counsel, she encourages each party to take the process seriously. If you ask to appear before the commissioners, she says, you need to be prepared. Commissioners will be fair, but they will ask tough questions. In addition, it’s important to bring someone who knows the facts of the case with you. Commissioners prefer to speak to the source for information to assess their credibility, she says, rather than having attorneys relay the message.
The OCRC provides valuable education and outreach for organizations and individuals. Commissioner Barreras says many don’t have the resources to learn all of the rules on their own. Most people don’t intentionally do the wrong thing, she says, they just don’t know the difference. Although the initial cost for training can seem daunting to a company or business owner, Commissioner Barreras cautions companies to think about costs an organization could incur if it doesn’t invest in the training. It’s more than the legal costs, she says. Companies should also consider the cost in lost employee morale, and how that affects an organization when its employees come to work every day and feel undervalued.
After three years on the job, Commissioner Barreras says she is humbled to serve, adding that the honor is attached to significant responsibility.
One of the best parts of her job, she says, is when someone approaches her after a commission meeting and thanks her for asking questions and for listening to the answers. On a number of occasions, she says, the positive feedback came even when the commission had not ruled in that person’s favor. Unfortunately, there are also moments that aren’t as pleasant. Commissioner Barreras says it is difficult to handle cases where something blatantly unfair happened in the workplace, but because it didn’t fall under the commission’s jurisdiction, the commissioners can’t help; they must enforce the law.
Commissioner Barreras is the vice chair of the Greater Columbus Arts Council and also serves on Governor Kasich’s Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board. Her service in the community influences the work she does on the commission to make sure all Ohioans receive fair treatment, particularly with consistent and productive hiring policies and procedures.
As she looks back on those days in kindergarten, Commissioner Barreras is pleasantly surprised how her life has come full circle. She is confident that she is making a difference in people’s lives, but she still keeps a picture of the “Lorena sticker” as a reminder of the work that still needs to be done.