State Human Rights Laws As Laboratories of Democracy

State Human Rights Laws As Laboratories of Democracy

State Human Rights Laws As Laboratories of Democracy

In 1945, seventy-five years ago, New York State became the first state in the nation to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment based on race, color, creed, and national origin. This is how the Division of Human Rights was born and we are proud to say that today, we continue in our legacy of leadership. This year we celebrate this great achievement and milestone in our agency's history. The first part of this event focused on the history and legacy of the Human Rights Law, and our agency's role. The second part of the program provided a comparative analysis of different jurisdictions and protections pertaining to discrimination under the law and explored how state and local human rights laws have served to advance the causes of justice and equality.

View Zoom Meeting Commemorating the event

Speakers included

  • H. Carl McCall, SUNY Chairman Emeritus, former NYS Comptroller, and former DHR Commissioner
    H. Carl McCall was designated Chairman Emeritus of the State University of New York Board of Trustees in June 2019. He served on the Board since 2007, was appointed Chairman of the Board in 2011, and retired in 2019. The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive university system in the United States, educating more than 467,000 students in more than 7,500 degree and certificate programs on 64 campuses.

    Mr. McCall has had a distinguished career as a public servant, becoming Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights in 1983.

    He served as Comptroller of the State of New York from May 1993 to December 2002. As Chief Fiscal Officer of the State, he was responsible for governmental and financial oversight and pension fund management. As sole Trustee of the 880,000-member State and Local Retirement Systems, Mr. McCall was responsible for investing a pension fund valued at $120 billion. He also served three terms as a New York State Senator representing the upper Manhattan district of New York City; as an Ambassador to the United Nations; and as a Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Mr. McCall served as President of the New York City Board of Education from 1991-1993, where he set policy for the largest school system in the nation.

    He has also been active in the private sector. He served as a Vice President of Citibank and as Corporate Director of the New York Stock Exchange, Tyco International, New Plan Realty Corporation, Ariel Investments and presently Athene Holdings LTD.

    He was educated at Dartmouth College, Andover Newton Theological Seminary and the University of Edinburgh. He is the recipient of ten honorary degrees.

    He is married to Dr. Joyce F. Brown, President of the Fashion Institute of Technology.

  • Hon. Gina Lopez Summa, NYS Court of Claims Judge, former DHR General Counsel
    Gina M. Lopez Summa was nominated to the Court of Claims by George E. Pataki and confirmed by the New York State Senate on December 11, 2006. She was again nominated and confirmed by Governor David Patterson for a term ending in 2016 and Governor Andrew Cuomo for a term ending in 2025.

    Prior to her appointments she served as the General Counsel for the New York State Division of Human Rights for seven years. In that position she was the legal advisor to the Commissioner and the agency and was responsible for overseeing the enforcement of the State’s Human Rights Law protecting citizens from discrimination in administrative hearing, litigation and appeals. She was also responsible for representing the agency in administrative forums.

    Prior to becoming General Counsel she served as Managing Attorney of the Law Enforcement Bureau at the New York City Commission of Human Rights.

    She has also held clerkships in New York State’s Civil and Supreme Courts. She frequently lectured at conferences and continuing legal education programs on the New York State Human Rights Law and administrative procedures. She is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School and earned her B.A. in Government and Politics at St. John’s University where she graduated magna cum laude.

  • Margarita Rosa, former DHR General Counsel and Commissioner
    Margarita Rosa is a lawyer and an organizational leader and manager with extensive experience in the government and not-for-profit sectors.

    She serves as an adviser to organizational leaders, including Executive Directors and CEOs of not-for-profit organizations and others.

    From 1995 to 2015, Rosa served as Executive Director of the Grand Street Settlement, a community-based organization in New York City with 250+ employees and a $14 million per year budget. Rosa oversaw the delivery of critical services to more than 10,000 New Yorkers annually including free or low-cost early childhood education, after-school programs and supports for adults of all ages.

    A graduate of the Harvard Law School, Margarita Rosa was the first Hispanic, the first woman and the youngest person to serve as Commissioner of the New York State Division of Human Rights.

    Rosa has a reputation for effective and innovative management and leadership of organizations. After graduating from Princeton, cum laude, with a degree in history, and receiving a McConnell Scholarship Prize for thesis research in international affairs, Rosa went on to the Harvard Law School. Rosa worked first as an associate in the Litigation Department at Rosenman Colin Freund Lewis and Cohen, and, later, as staff attorney for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

    She subsequently became General Counsel, then Executive Deputy Commissioner and then Commissioner of New York State Division of Human Rights. Appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo, she was charged with enforcing the State Human Rights Law.

    The NYS Division of Human Rights had a $10 million budget and over 200 employees. Rosa advised the administration on civil rights policies, and did extensive public speaking on legal and public policy issues.

    She also served as Vice Chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission and on the Governor's Task Force on Implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    In addition she was a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Women in Government and was also Chair of the Division of Human Rights' Advisory Panel on Inter-Group Relations. Rosa has taught as an Adjunct Professor in Graduate Schools of Public Service/Public Affairs at Baruch College and at New York University. She also has taught at the Fordham Law School. She served as a member of the NYC Mayor’s Task Force on Early Care and Education, and on the NYC Commission on Women's Issues, and was a member of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on the Judiciary from 2002 to 2004. Rosa has served on the Boards of Directors of a number of not-for-profit organizations, and as a trustee of Princeton University.

    She has received numerous awards and honors including, the “Pionera” Award from LatinoJustice/PRLDEF, the Honoring Women Award from the New York Women’s Foundation, and 3 the Foundation for the Judicial Friends “Leaders in Law” Award.

  • Caroline Downey, DHR General Counsel
    Caroline Downey is an experienced attorney and long-term employee of the New York State Division of Human Rights.


    As of January 2007, Ms. Downey became General Counsel for the Division of Human Rights.  As General Counsel, she advises the Commissioner on all legal matters affecting the Division.  She supervises the Legal Bureau, including the Legislation and Legal Opinions Unit, the Litigation and Appeals Unit, and the Legal Records Management Unit.  She also serves as the Division's Ethics Officer.

    Ms. Downey joined the Division as a Legal Bureau Senior Attorney in 1981, after four years as Litigation Associate with the New York City law firm of Hawkins, Delafield and Wood. She first served in the Appeals and Litigation Unit at the Division, where she litigated many discrimination cases in the Appellate Divisions and the Court of Appeals, including Binghamton Federal Credit Union v. SDHR, which established that the denial of credit disability insurance to pregnant women constituted sex discrimination in the offering of credit under the Human Rights Law, and SDHR v. Onondaga Sheriff's Department, where the Court of Appeals, in a race and sex discrimination case, recognized that an employer's shifting explanations for its employment actions may give rise to an inference that later explanations are pretextual.  In 1992, Ms. Downey was promoted to the position of Director of Legislation and Legal Opinions for the Division, where her responsibilities included overseeing the Division's legislative and regulatory programs.  Ms. Downey was promoted to Supervising Attorney for the Division in June, 2005, the position she held until her promotion to General Counsel.

    Ms. Downey lectures frequently in all areas involving interpretation of the Human Rights Law.

    Ms. Downey is a graduate of Lake Erie College for Women and the Antioch School of Law.

  • Rebecca Lucero, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights
    On January 3, 2019, Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan appointed Rebecca Lucero to serve as the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Rebecca has spent her life fighting to end racism and transform policies that lead to structural inequities. She strives to lead her life with an intersectional lens, honoring complex identities.

    Before her appointment as Commissioner, Rebecca worked in public policy and civil rights law, working to create a more just and joyous world. She worked at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, and for U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison to change the law, systems, and structures that cause institutional inequities. As an attorney, she worked as a civil rights lawyer in private practice, as an administrative law judge, and for the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis.

    Rebecca earned her Bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College, and her law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School, with a focus in employment law.

  • Carmelyn Malalis, Chair and Commissioner of the NYC Commission on Human Rights
    Carmelyn P. Malalis was appointed Chair and Commissioner of the New York City Commission on Human Rights (the Commission) in November 2014 following more than a decade in private practice as an advocate for employees' rights in the workplace.

    Prior to her appointment, Commissioner Malalis was a partner at Outten & Golden LLP where she co-founded and co-chaired its Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Workplace Rights Practice Group and co-chaired its Disability and Family Responsibilities Discrimination Practice Group; and successfully represented employees in negotiations, agency proceedings, and litigation involving claims of sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination based on race, national origin, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, pregnancy, disability, and religion.

    Throughout her career, Ms. Malalis has demonstrated a fierce commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, and preventing and prosecuting discrimination and intolerance. Since she assumed her role as Chair and Commissioner in February 2015, Commissioner Malalis has revitalized the agency, making it a recognized venue for justice for all New Yorkers through increased enforcement, novel restorative justice approaches to case and conflict resolution, and robust public education and outreach to prevent discrimination in New York City.

    She has served on the New York City Bar Association's Executive Committee and Committee on LGBT Rights, Human Rights Watch's Advisory Committee to its LGBT Rights Program, the American Bar Association's Section on Labor and Employment Law Committee on Diversity in the Legal Profession, and the board of Queers for Economic Justice.

    Commissioner Malalis earned her J.D. from the Northeastern University School of Law and received a B.A. in Women's Studies from Yale University. She and her wife live in Brooklyn with their two children.

  • Rachel Wainer Apter, Director of the NJ Division on Civil Rights
    Rachel Wainer Apter became the Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights on October 15, 2018. She previously served as Counsel to the Attorney General, advising on civil rights and immigration matters and leading the New Jersey team that defeated a preliminary injunction motion by Texas and seven other states to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

    Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office, Rachel worked at the American Civil Liberties Union on cases concerning the right to be free from discrimination, reproductive freedom, voting rights, and other federal constitutional questions. She served as counsel in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which considered whether a baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple on religious grounds was exempt from Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws. She also served as counsel on a challenge to the Trump Administration’s decision to allow employers with moral or religious objections to contraception to opt out of providing coverage to women employees without ensuring that the women could still access no-cost contraception. Rachel also argued and won a disability discrimination appeal and led a task force regarding investigations of sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses.

    Prior to the ACLU, Rachel worked in the Supreme Court and Appellate practice at Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, where she briefed and argued cases in federal and state courts. She was also a leader of the firm-wide Women’s Initiative.

    Rachel, who grew up in Rockaway, New Jersey, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received her law degree from Harvard Law School. After law school, Rachel served as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the United States Supreme Court, Judge Robert Katzmann on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Judge Jed Rakoff on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

    Rachel lives in Englewood with her husband and three children.