Racial Equity: The condition that would be achieved where outcomes are not predicted by race; if everyone got what they needed to have a fair chance (opportunity and access) at creating quality of life.
Disparate impact occurs when policies, practices, rules, or other systems that appear to be neutral result in a disproportionate impact on people of color or other protected groups.
We know that lawyers possess powerful tools to dismantle systemic barriers to racial equity. That is why it is imperative that we incorporate a racial equity lens in our projects, cases, and strategies.
We partnered with the Racial Justice Institute at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law and Baltimore Racial Justice Action (BRJA) to build our knowledge of institutional, cultural, and systemic racism and develop strategies to address racial equity in our work. BRJA facilitated a two-year training program for our staff, and we formed a Race Equity Team to coordinate, develop, and facilitate ongoing staff training and to keep racial equity at the center of our work.
We use all the tools in the lawyer toolbox to help people in power understand the impact of their decisions on people with low-incomes and communities of color.
Baltimore and the State of Maryland have a legacy of discriminatory lending and residential segregation that have made it harder for families of color to own homes, access good schools, and find good jobs close to home. Using a racial equity frame to show disparate impact, we joined allies in successfully advocated for a bill in Baltimore City that prohibits landlords from denying housing based on source of income.
More than 30,000 Marylanders work as home care workers, an industry that is disproportionately made up of women and people of color and that, until 2015, lacked protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the law that sets the federal minimum wage and overtime pay rules). Home care workers still earn low wages ($11-$12 per hour) and are often misclassified as independent contractors, meaning they may not be paid fully for all their hours worked or provided worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, and other benefits. We represented home care workers in class and collective actions against offending employers to recover unpaid wages and show employers the cost of noncompliance.
Black students experience suspension and expulsion at significantly higher rates than their white peers. In the 2016-17 school year, Black students received 62% of suspensions and expulsions in Maryland, even though they comprised only 34% of the school population—and this disparity is not a product of measurable differences in behavior. We represented students at suspension or expulsion conferences, at school board appeals, and in state level appeals; identified a pattern of school pushout in Baltimore County; and worked with the school system to revise its school discipline policy.
Working for race equity requires ongoing learning and reflection. We share a few resources on structural racism, white supremacy, and antiracism here.