Dr. Rolanda Ward, associate professor and endowed faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, and Mission at Niagara University, was one of nine individuals invited by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to provide testimony during a listening session focused on racial and economic justice in the workplace. The meeting was held on Aug. 22, 2022, at the City of Buffalo Common Council Chambers, Buffalo City Hall.

The witnesses were asked to offer suggestions to advance equal opportunity in the workplace during the session, which was the first of three that are being held to collect public input regarding priorities and activities that should be included in the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for fiscal years 2022-26.

“Today’s listening session is meant to help us ensure that this commission … really undertakes the kind of sustained action in the area of employment discrimination that can, in fact, make real and lasting change,” said Charlotte Burrows, chair of the EEOC. “Our discussion and the contributions of today’s panelists will help shape our strategic enforcement plan—the blueprint for our action over the next several years—and ensure that our work is informed by the views of this community and communities across America."

Dr. Ward spoke about the “disproportionate and disparate employment and economic outcomes” experienced by formerly incarcerated individuals. Practices such as criminal background checks and the conditions imposed on those under community supervision, such as on-site workplace observation and verification of hours worked, pose employment risks, she said, and advocated that the EEOC specifically name justice-involved individuals as a vulnerable population.

“The identification of the formerly incarcerated or persons on parole or probation as having characteristics which may require employers to grant reasonable accommodations is an action that forges racial equity,” she said.

Other witnesses included Thomas Beauford Jr., president and CEO of the Buffalo Urban League; Mark Blue, president of NAACP-Buffalo; Trina Burruss, CEO of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County; Kelly Hernandez, member of the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York’s board of directors; Maureen Kielt, director of the EEOC’s Buffalo office; Cindi McEachon, CEO of Peaceprints of WNY; Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo; and Henry Louis Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo.

“Advancing Racial and Economic Justice in the Workplace,” was the first commission meeting held outside of Washington, D.C., since 2015.

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