By Rosalyn Anderson
Wallace Sherwood and Jim Davis, representatives of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), told a small group of students in the Boston University George Sherman Union last night there is a need for black lawyers and black professionals in Massachusetts.
Sherwood, a black attorney and one of three MCAD commissioners and Davis, MCAD community relations director, said their agency is overworked and understaffed. The state legislature last year increased their responsibilities without increasing their staff, they said.
Davis said the 27-year-old MCAD is “the strongest human rights agency in the world.”
A former director of the Roxbury Defenders Committee, Sherwood said in addition to the usual complaints of racial and sexual discrimination, the legislature authorized the Commission to investigate complaints of discrimination against bling persons and veterans. Also investigated are minority admission procedures at colleges and vocational training schools.
The Commission has always had a poor image in the black community, according to Sherwood, and has recently received poor press coverage. Sherwood referred to reports of employees being fired from the Commission and later filing court suits alleging discrimination by the Commission.
Sherwood said, “I have been at the Commission a couple of months and have looked for evidence of these charges. If there was any, there is no way I would keep my mouth shut.” He said those fired were not doing their work properly and were incompetent.
The Commissioner said black people struggled to get legislation dealing with racial discrimination passed but now almost every type of discrimination has been added to the Commission’s responsibilities. Sherwood said racial discrimination is a more serious problem than sexual discrimination.
Sherwood gave an example of discrimination directed at him personally. When he applied for a credit card at a local bank, he was turned down, he said, even though the bank knew he was a lawyer and his salary was twice the minimum required. He took his case to the bank vice-president and was eventually given a card, after threatening to go to court, he said.
The audience asked what the procedures were for filing complaints. Some complaints can be handled without having a formal hearing and in such cases, the Commission can work very quickly. Other cases which go through normal channels are examined by investigatory commissioners, who later give the case to the hearing commissioners if they find merit in the complaint.