The Rewards of Life as a Civil Rights Investigator
by Jennifer Kalafut, Communications Intern
Some may think that an investigator is someone who goes out and investigates, and they would not be wrong. However, if they had said the same thing about a Civil Rights Investigator (CRI), they would be oversimplifying what can be a complex and demanding job.
The role of a CRI investigator is so much more than someone who investigates a claim of discrimination. CRIs are investigators, but they are also educators, listeners, critical thinkers, analytical readers and mediators. “You have to wear many hats,” says CRM Sonya Merriweather.
The day-to-day job of a Civil Rights Investigator is packed, from checking emails and voicemails, scheduling appointments, reading and reviewing files, writing reports, checking in with claimants, accommodating respondents and claimants, and meeting goals and expectations. Priorities can change at the drop of a hat as soon as a new email is received or a phone call comes in. Every Civil Rights Investigator brings their own method to the madness and knows what works best for them.
Likewise, Civil Rights Investigators also have different types of cases that they find to be more fulfilling. A CRI may succeed in helping someone to “stay whole” by keeping their employment after a wrongful discharge or being able to help an individual get their visa signed and approved so that they can potentially get citizenship.
While CRIs have different ways of going about their day and have differing ideas of what is fulfilling about their work, it is the passion and motivation behind each Civil Rights Investigator that provides similarity throughout the group. Civil Rights Investigators are passionate about educating and helping others, and that is why they keep coming back every day.
“[My passion is] providing good customer service,” explained CRI Marques Beene. “When done correctly, you can say, ‘There was insufficient evidence, and here is why. Maybe next time do a, b, c, d to make sure you have sufficient evidence if you file again.’ You empathize with them and then share what they should consider doing, or here is a different form that would help reflect better [the claimant’s evidence] and give the complaint more teeth. [You have to] educate complainants to allow them to have success,” says Marques Beene.
CRIs educate complainants and respondents equally.
CRI Melissa Fields explains she can measure the potential for a successful complaint when creating good notes. “Requests for Information let respondents see what you’re looking at and see how they are being perceived,” said Melissa. “Are you transparently caring about civil rights, did you follow guidelines? If not, then how come, what were your motives? This aspect is important,” said Melissa.
The work of managing a team of CRIs can also be challenging. “[You have to] meet people where they’re at, figure out what motivates that individual, and adapt to them,” says Civil Rights Manager Sonya Merriweather.
CRIs know the true impact they can have on a person. They love the challenge of educating, but even more so, they love the people that they educate. CRIs are passionate and highly motivated; they know that what they do can impact a person or group immensely and hope to do so in a positive way.
CRIs tend to have a common “why” that motivates them. However, that does not always make their jobs easier. The amount of work that must go into every case to make sure that each individual is fully given an opportunity to be heard is large. It requires that CRIs delve deep into the nitty gritty of things, everything has precision, and every task is given full effort and attention. CRIs take time out of their day to make sure claimants and respondents understand what is needed of them next time and always give them the reason for certain findings and declarations.
How does this passion translate to everyone else at MDCR? How does this passion translate to complainants and respondents? What does the outside world not know that is crucial to aid these CRIs and what can be done so that we may engage with the same fulfilling passion as these special investigators?
There are many obstacles within their role. One is working under the pressure of claimants and respondents, who each expect different things from them. The CRI’s role is not to act as an advocate or an attorney for the complainant or to get the respondents into trouble. Instead, it is to come to a case from a position of neutrality and investigate, looking at all the moving parts and providing resources accordingly.
CRIs may have 50 or more cases assigned to their caseload at any time. They answer countless emails and consistently work to make case closure quotas. Saying this is what CRIs do would not be incorrect but would certainly limit the imagination as to all that they do. It is important to understand the quality of work they must produce in order to do their job and to do it well.
I encourage everyone to take the time to reach out and say hello to a CRI, see how their day was and gain their perspective. As someone who is new to MDCR and the work of CRIs, it is this interaction that gave me the opportunity to see how the MDCR mission is reflected in the passion and commitment Civil Rights Investigators bring to their jobs daily.