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A Conversation with Chairman Leonard Hubert of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission

Leonard Hubert has served on the Ohio Civil Rights Commission since 2006 and as its chairman since 2011. Before joining the commission, he was the Governor’s director of external affairs, overseeing the Office of Minority Affairs, Multicultural Affairs, Faith-Based Initiatives, and Veterans Affairs. He recently took some time to discuss the workings of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission with Assistant Attorney General Steve Schmidt of the Ohio Attorney General’s Civil Rights Section.

Steve Schmidt: What would you like the public to understand about the commission’s work?
Leonard Hubert: What I’d like the public to understand about the work of the commission is, and to some degree I say this with sadness, the commission’s work is still necessary. It’s still necessary when you look at the number of cases that continue to be filed with the commission. For example, just a month ago, The Columbus Dispatch did a Sunday article about the Zanesville water case. If you had a conversation with most citizens about that case, they would not think this was a case in this century. No one would believe that individuals would be denied access to water based on the color of their skin, but it happened. We had a case in Cincinnati a year ago in which an individual put up a sign at an apartment pool saying, “whites only.” I’m from the segregated South, from Alabama. I grew up right in an area in which segregation was very prevalent, and it is mind boggling that we see those types of things today. We still see cross burnings right here in Central Ohio. The work of the commission is, unfortunately, still necessary.
Steve Schmidt: How do you strive to achieve fairness?
Leonard Hubert: What I try to make people understand is that the commission is a neutral third party. The commission’s role and responsibility is to investigate the case, gather materials from both sides, and apply the evidence that the investigation produces to determine whether or not discrimination occurred. It is not the commission’s role to side with either party. It is to look at the evidence and follow the evidence and let it go where it needs to go.
Steve Schmidt: What is the most important attribute of a commissioner?
Leonard Hubert: It’s the ability to listen, look at the facts, apply the law, and reach a decision. Sometimes a case involves a manager or an owner being a jerk. But being a jerk is not discrimination, you’re just dealing with a jerk.
Steve Schmidt: The commission prides itself on trying to stop discrimination before it happens, primarily through education and training. Are there plans to expand in those areas?
Leonard Hubert: Yes. We routinely meet with businesses and organizations to educate them about discrimination and the commission’s processes. Another approach is what we call “taking our show on the road.” We have held commission meetings at Ohio State, Kent State, Wright State, Cleveland State, and Rhodes State College in Lima. These provide opportunities for students and the public to see how the commission works. We intend to continue this outreach to increase the commission’s visibility. We want to remedy problems before they happen, and education is the key. Our work involves everything from providing housing training to the realtors’ association to maintaining ongoing partnerships with entities such as Honda, Wright State University, and PNC in conducting our annual Civil Rights Hall of Fame. This program recognizes Ohioans who have advocated for civil rights. Another educational piece is our Martin Luther King Jr. Art, Writing and Multimedia Contest. We work with schools across the state to talk with students about discrimination and how to recognize and apply Dr. King’s principles in their world. (See samples of the students’ work.)
Steve Schmidt: What emerging issues do you see the commission becoming involved in?
Leonard Hubert: Some areas include LGBT rights in employment and marriage, emotional support animals, accessibility for disabled persons, familial status in housing, “stand your ground” laws, prior convictions and credit scores/history in employment decisions, and human trafficking.
Steve Schmidt: Is the commission’s process cost-effective?
Leonard Hubert: From the moment a case is filed, parties have access to the commission’s mediation process. Our goal is to help the parties resolve the matter because we just want to stop discrimination. If it’s there, we want to say, “OK, this is what you did wrong. Don’t do it anymore, and let’s move on.” If you look at the time and cost of judicial proceedings, the cost savings from the commission’s process is a great benefit for the citizens of Ohio.
Steve Schmidt: Which commission cases stick out in your mind?
Leonard Hubert: Every case sticks out to some degree. In addition to the water and pool sign cases that I’ve already mentioned, one is a case involving a nationally recognized restaurant chain that refused to serve African-American college students because of a prior incident involving an African-American. So the bias arose from the manager being upset with what had happened with the prior experience, and he made a decision not to serve the students based on race. There have been dozens of cases of that nature.
Steve Schmidt: If you wanted to give some advice to Ohio youth, what would you tell them about the future?
Leonard Hubert: Well, I think we have a bright future as a state and as a nation, but I would suggest that things are changing, and changing in the sense that we live in a global society. We are dealing with individuals from all walks of life, all nationalities, all races, all religions, who have totally different cultural perspectives. So, when you bring all of those wonderful things together, we have to be able to do what is right regardless of those differences.
For more information: Visit the Ohio Civil Rights Commission website.