Notes from the Field: Rachel Scholz-Bright ‘18

Rachel Scholz-Bright ‘18 interned in the Civil Rights Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office for the 2017 winter term. The following is an excerpt from her internship report. ​

This past winter term, I interned at the Civil Rights Division (CRD) of the MA Attorney General’s Office. The CRD addresses constituent complaints of discrimination arising from belonging to a protected class and enforces Massachusetts and federal anti-discrimination law. I have always been passionate about social justice and civil rights, and going into this internship, I was excited to expand my knowledge and to work first hand with constituents to help resolve their issues. From the first day, I worked on cases and advocated for constituents facing discrimination across the Commonwealth. The main focus of my work at the CRD was intake and casework: I would receive and process complaints, both from walk-ins and our E-Complaint system, and determine the best course of action with the attorneys in the office. For instance, some complaints would fall outside of the CRD’s jurisdiction, and I would find appropriate referrals for those cases, often to other public service agencies or legal services non-profits. For complaints that we would “escalate”, I would research the complaint and contact the involved parties, and in appropriate cases, assist with negotiating settlements. CRD focuses on housing and public accommodations discrimination, but also investigates complaints of discrimination in public education, employment, police investigations and other areas, resulting in each day bringing new challenges and problems to address.

In addition to casework, I also performed research projects for the Assistant Attorneys General in the division, including helping with background research for our joint suit against the President’s travel ban and creating a database of civil rights settlements in the past five years to aid with future settlement discussions. Over the course of the internship, I honed my knowledge of civil rights law in Massachusetts and of the roles of various public agencies tasked with enforcing the law. Before the internship, I had a broad understanding of civil rights law, but over the course of the internship, I gained an in depth and detailed understanding of the law. For instance, by working on a case where a landlord wanted to evict a pregnant woman and her husband, I discovered the intricacies of lead paint law, family discrimination law and the landlord’s obligation to delead. By working on a case where a prospective tenant was turned away because of her Section 8 housing voucher, I learned about Massachusetts law protecting people from discrimination due to source of income. As my knowledge of the law grew, I was better able to assist constituents and became more confident in my presentation of their cases to the attorneys in the office. One of my favorite parts of the internship was being able to call the complainant and tell them what our office would be doing to help them. Often, they would be overjoyed that finally someone had heard them, and that we would actually be doing something to stop the discrimination. Having a tangible effect on the lives of constituents was amazing.

My biggest takeaway from this internship was that while working in civil rights law is not easy, it is immensely rewarding. The constituents reaching out to us were often having one of the worst experiences of their lives, and for us to be able to help them through it was truly amazing. Seeing the work that goes into protecting the rights of the citizens of Massachusetts strengthened my passion for social justice and inspired me to continue my education in the law and to pursue civil rights work as a career. Having the opportunity to complete this internship, thanks to the Rockefeller Center and the McSpadden family, allowed me to gain experience in the field and see how the Attorney General’s Office works to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth and to enforce the law. While the specific knowledge of the law I acquired will help me both academically and in a civil rights career, the intangible skills I developed, such as how to effectively communicate with constituents and distill important information to share with others, as well as technical writing and research, will aid me in all of my professional pursuits.