Income Inequality, Advocating for Change, and an Interview with Tyrel Oates

October 22, 2014

CSL Civil Rights Clinic:

If you like this blog article, check out the interview Tyrel Oates did for the Legal Dose, the Civil Rights Clinic’s podcast:

Originally posted on Civil Rights Clinic:

By Carla Vestal

Have you ever felt that you were being treated unfairly by your supervisor or maybe one of your professors?  Have you thought about telling the person who held a superior position over you exactly how you felt?  For many of us the answer is “Yes.”  You play the scenario out in your head during your commute or while sitting in class, and for some reason you never follow through with it.  Maybe it is because you do not want to seem unprofessional, or because you are scared of getting reprimanded or even fired.  For whatever reason, you never speak up for yourself.

Meet Mr. Tyrel Oates.  He is a Wells Fargo branch employee in Portland, Oregon, who decided to speak out about a problem plaguing America but few know little about: income inequality.  He not only spoke up for himself, he sent an email to the…

View original 1,360 more words

Former CRC member sworn in at Mecklenburg County Courthhouse

October 20, 2014

Thom Prince, member of the Civil Rights Clinic from 2013-2014 and all-around great guy, passed the North Carolina Bar Exam in July and was officially sworn in to practice in North Carolina by our very own professor, Jason Huber.Swearing Huber

Thom is currently employed as an attorney with Milazzo Schaffer Webb Law, PLLC.

The Civil Rights Clinic would like to congratulate Thom on his excellent achievements!

Undocumented Parents Struggle to Participate in the Classroom

October 17, 2014

By: Courtney Rudy

It is only natural for a parent to want to participate in their child’s life.  A major part of a child’s life is in their classroom education.  While most parents have the ability to participate in their child’s classroom, parents of undocumented children in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) do not have that right.

The Problem

An undocumented person is a person who has entered the United States illegally and is deportable if apprehended.  An undocumented person can also be someone who entered the United States legally but who has fallen “out of status” and is deportable.[1]  Currently, undocumented parents are not allowed to volunteer at CMS because the county’s volunteer application requires parents to have a social security number and a North Carolina driver’s license.[2]  Because undocumented parents are in the United States illegally and do not have either, they are not allowed to participate at their child’s school.[3]  However, even though the parents are undocumented, their children are entitled by law to enroll in school.[4]  Current guidelines enable the principal to utilize discretion in allowing the child’s parent to volunteer and interact with their child’s education.  However, this does not guarantee all parents the ability to see their children at school.[5]

Undocumented parents are seeking the right to be allowed into their children’s classroom so they can be more involved in their education.  They want to be able to go into their children’s classroom and participate in the same way other parents do.  They also want to be able to attend the school so they can be more hands-on with their children and help them if they fall behind.  Also, it has been shown that increased parental involvement will increase a child’s academic success.[6]  Other major cities, such as Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, New York, and Houston, allow undocumented parents to fully participate in their child’s school without submitting their social security numbers and driver’s license.  These cities allow the parents to participate by conducting a criminal background search using the parent’s basic information and by accepting passports as a means of identification.


The Proposal

A committee at CMS has drafted a proposal to help undocumented parents become more involved in their child’s schooling.  The proposal contains three levels of parental involvement.  Level one only requires that the parents provide their name and date of birth.  Once the parent has provided the information, the lobby guard system will run a background check to see if the parent has any sexual offense charges.  If the parent is free of charges they will be allowed access to their child, and their child only.  Level two allows the parent to interact under the direct supervision of a CMS employee with not only their child, but other children as well.  For this interaction to occur, the parent would need to present one form of a valid photo ID with their name and date of birth.  A license, passport, or consular ID will satisfy the requirements for level two interactions.[7]

Level three allows unsupervised access inside and outside the school.  Unsupervised access includes allowing parents to tutor or volunteer to be a field trip chaperone.  For level three, parents are required to have a social security number, valid North Carolina driver’s license, and pass a background check showing that they are free of felonies and sexual offenses.  The requirements of a social security number and North Carolina driver’s license will exclude undocumented parents from level three interactions.[8]

In order for these changes to be implemented, the proposal will need to be approved by the Superintendent of CMS, Heath Morrison.  There is no clear indication as to when this proposal will be implemented if approved.  If the proposal were to be approved it would be a huge victory for undocumented parents because it would grant them a greater ability to participate in their children’s education.  Stay tuned to the Civil Rights Clinic Blog to find out if the proposal is passed!

[1] A legal immigrant can fall out of status by violating the terms of their visa.  An example of this is a legal immigrant who has over stayed they term of their visa.

[2] CMS Volunteer Application

[3] To obtain a driver’s license in North Carolina you are required to present two documents proving age and identity, proof of Social Security, proof of residency showing that you have a legal presence in the U.S., and proof of registration.  For a non-citizen to be approved for a social security card they need to have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security.  If the non-citizen does not have a permit to work there needs to be a federal or state law that requires a social security number to get a particular benefit for which they have already qualified.  A non-citizen cannot get a social security number for the sole purpose of obtaining a driver’s license.

[4] Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).  The Supreme Court of the United States case held that it is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for school districts to deny funding for education to undocumented children.  The application of Plyler v. Doe is limited to K-12 schooling.



[7]   Consular ID’s are issued by some governments to their citizens who are living in foreign countries.  Consular ID’s contain the person’s name and date of birth.


#DayOneNC: History at your Doorstep

October 14, 2014

By Celia Olson

It was a rainy day in Matthews, N.C.  The kind of weather that marks the beginning—and the end—of scary movies.  I was sitting in a Chili’s restaurant, eating a juicy bacon cheeseburger when I got the news: Judge strikes down North Carolina gay marriage ban.  Several advocacy groups had been live-tweeting updates on the status of North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban throughout the week, so I had been following the Civil Rights Clinic Twitter feed all day, refreshing at 20-30 second intervals, waiting for the precise moment when history would be made.  I had the search keyed up so that every time someone tweeted on the topic I would find out instantaneously: #DayOneNC.  And so, at just after 5 PM on Friday night, I found out that same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina.

As far as I know, there haven’t been any reports of catastrophic world-ending events or activity since Friday night.

But let me back up and set the stage for you.

As recently as two weeks ago, same-sex marriage was only legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.  Of those nineteen states, three states legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, eight by state legislature, and eight by court decision.[1]

This seems crazy considering that as of right now, 8:15 AM on October 14, 2014, same-sex marriage is legal in 30 states.

The tides turned last Monday, October 6, 2014, when the United States Supreme Court—in unexpected fashion—declined to decide whether states can ban same-sex marriage by rejecting appeals in cases involving five states.  All five states (Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, and Indiana) had lower court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans.  Immediately, those five states reverted back to the lower courts’ binding precedent, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage.  In the span of one week, six other states followed, all of which were bound by the regional federal appeals court rulings that had struck down other bans.[2]

So what does this mean for North Carolina?

North Carolina, along with Alaska, West Virginia, Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado, have since legalized same-sex marriage through subsequent court rulings, bringing the total states with legal same-sex marriage to thirty.  Even more are expected to follow in the upcoming weeks.[3]

Amendment One, North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, went into effect during a Republican primary in May of 2012 when it was approved by a majority of voters.[4]  On Friday, October 10, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn struck down Amendment One, citing the controlling Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s case, Bostic v. Schaefer, as precedent.[5]  Bostic v. Schaefer involved two same-sex couples: one couple was denied a marriage license in Virginia, and the other couple’s valid California marriage license was not being recognized in Virginia.[6]  They were successful in their fourteenth amendment claim at the trial court level with strong wording by the presiding judge, whose decision was later affirmed by the 4th Circuit:

“A spirited and controversial debate is underway regarding who may enjoy the right to marry in the United States of America. America has pursued a journey to make and keep our citizens free. This journey has never been easy, and at times has been painful and poignant. The ultimate exercise of our freedom is choice. Our Declaration of Independence recognizes that “all men” are created equal. Surely this means all of us.” – Virginia Eastern District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright[7]

In North Carolina, with Judge Cogburn’s ruling, same-sex marriage could begin immediately—and it did.  In Buncombe County, the Register of Deeds stayed open an extra two hours Friday night to ensure that every couple who had been waiting in line could get their marriage license.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

In Mecklenburg County, the first same-sex marriage license was granted at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2014, to Terrence Hall and Christopher DeCaria.[8]  Unfortunately though, the morning was not all peace, love, and rainbows.  Protesters gathered at the courthouse by 9 AM, yelling at the waiting couples that they were “going to hell.”[9]  Some protestors were asked to leave, while some remained, silently holding signs.  Despite the negativity, 62 couples were able to successfully receive marriage licenses in Charlotte—and others were even married right there at the courthouse!

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

Whether you are straight or gay, if you think this does not affect you—you are wrong.  A recent study conducted by The Williams Institute estimated that with the legalization of same-sex marriage, North Carolina stands to add $64 million to the state and local economy over the next three years due to the increase in weddings being performed in-state.  What same-sex marriage does not affect are the pre-existing and future marriages of heterosexual couples.  Believe it or not, they still will hold valid marriage licenses.

Allowing everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., to receive equal rights under the law is the hallmark of the civil rights movement in the United States.  Thank you, North Carolina, for stepping up and standing on the right side of history.


[2] In 30 states – AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV and WI, plus Washington, D.C. – same-sex couples have the freedom to marry.

[3] In an additional five states (Arizona, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming), federal appellate rulings have set binding precedent in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning the path is cleared for the legalization of same-sex marriage there as well.  Id.



[6] Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352,  (4th Cir. 2014).

[7] Bostic v. Rainey, 970 F. Supp. 2d 456 (E.D. Va. 2014) (language comes from the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs).



Income Inequality, Advocating for Change, and an Interview with Tyrel Oates

October 12, 2014

By Carla Vestal

Have you ever felt that you were being treated unfairly by your supervisor or maybe one of your professors?  Have you thought about telling the person who held a superior position over you exactly how you felt?  For many of us the answer is “Yes.”  You play the scenario out in your head during your commute or while sitting in class, and for some reason you never follow through with it.  Maybe it is because you do not want to seem unprofessional, or because you are scared of getting reprimanded or even fired.  For whatever reason, you never speak up for yourself.

Meet Mr. Tyrel Oates.  He is a Wells Fargo branch employee in Portland, Oregon, who decided to speak out about a problem plaguing America but few know little about: income inequality.  He not only spoke up for himself, he sent an email to the President of Wells Fargo, John Stumpf, and cc’ed 200,000 other Wells Fargo employees.  Since he sent that email the story has gone national, being reported in the Business Insider, The Huffington Post, and the San Francisco Business Times, just to mention a few.

I reached out to Mr. Oates and expressed to him how I admired his tenaciousness in sending an email to the president of one of the most profitable corporations in the United States.  Surprisingly, he responded to my message and agreed to let me interview him for the Charlotte School of Law Civil Rights Blog.  The following is a transcript of our conversation:

Carla Vestal (“CV”): Had you thought about writing that email for a while, or was it more of a spontaneous event?

Tyrel Oates (“TO”): Finding a way to create positive change in the workplace has been something I have thought about for a long time.

CV: What was going through your mind when you were cc’ing the Wells Fargo Global address book to your email?

TO: When the decision was made to address the issue, it was clear that the only way there was a chance in creating change was to make everyone aware of the scope of the issue, and to let everyone know that they are not alone in their thoughts.

CV: Are you this assertive in everything you do?

TO: Having a passion for something and remaining idle accomplishes nothing, [so] when you feel strong enough about an idea, you just have to go for it.

CV: Have you always been so forward thinking about income inequality or is your focus on this issue something that has developed throughout your years of service to a corporation?

TO: I’ve been monitoring the topic of income inequality off and on since the recession hit.

CV: Other than the raise you asked for, what other intentions did you hope that the email would have both internally and nationally?

TO: Internally, the secondary intention was to let my fellow team members know that their voice matters and [they] should not fear retaliation for constructively voicing their opinions.  Now that this has gone national, my biggest hope is that a larger awareness has been created regarding the importance of this topic.

CV: Did you think that this email would garnish as much national attention as it has?

TO: I didn’t even think that it would even leave the company.

CV: What do you want people to internalize the most from this experience?

TO: That this is a much larger issue than our nation realizes, and the solution should not be primarily tasked to our government to address, but primarily be the responsibility of the major corporations controlling the majority of income distribution.

CV: Would you consider yourself a political activist?  If so, what inspires you to be vocal about income inequality in particular?

TO: I would not consider myself to be a political activist; however, if this issue is not brought into a more prevalent light, our economy will only get worse.

CV: In an era where there is very little job security for people who choose to speak-out against the corporation that employs them, what was your “breaking point?”

TO: There was no particular “breaking point,” it was more a matter of choosing the right time.

CV: Did you send the email because you were just fed up or was it based on altruism?

TO: This was definitely an action based in altruism.

CV: Do you feel that the corporation scheme devalues and dehumanizes the people who make the profit margin for them?

TO: Absolutely.

CV: What are your next steps?  Do you intend to stay employed at Wells Fargo?

TO: For now, I plan to stay with the company.

CV: What do you feel would happen if there was a movement to unionize?

TO: With Wells Fargo, any attempt to unionize would be shot down.

CV: Do you feel the reaction would be the same from Wells Fargo as the reactions that Wal-Mart workers have faced?

TO: The health care premiums at Wells have slowly increased over time already; on the other hand, the company continues to grow and I do not see them needing to scale back hours to make up for the increase in compensation.

CV: Do you think that our generation is involved enough in the workforce movement for equal pay?

TO: Not nearly enough.

CV: What does it take to get people involved in these issues (other than emailing the President or cc’ing the world)?

TO: Choosing not to remain ignorant to the issues we as a nation face, and to overcome the notion that one person has no impact, like I said in the email: While the voice of one person in a world as large as ours may seem only like a whisper, the combined voices of each and all of us can move mountains!

Mr. Oates does not consider himself a political activist, just a concerned worker taking a stand; however, the topic of income inequality is without a doubt one of the most politically charged debates that is happening in our country.  Income inequality is measured by the Gini co-efficient, which is a statistical dispersion model of how income is distributed in a nation.  Although a full discussion of income inequality is outside of the scope of this article, here are just a few startling facts and statistics about income inequality and the United States:

  1. United States income inequality is the highest it has been since 1928.[1]
  2. The income disparity between Caucasian and African Americans, commonly referred to as the Black/White Gap, has persisted by growing from $19,000 in 1967 to $27,000 in 2011.[2]
  3. Wealth inequality is even greater than income inequality with the highest earning fifth of Americans earning 59.1% of the income, and the richest fifth of Americans holding 88.9% of the nation’s wealth.[3]
  4. In 1965, a CEO made 24 times what the average production worker made. In 2009, a CEO made 184 times more that the average production worker.[4]
  5. The United States has more children living in poverty than any other developed nation at 21%. [5] [6]

What does all of this mean?  It means that we live in a society where the rich are getter richer, and the poor are getting poorer.  But it does not have to remain this way.  To stop, and possibly reverse this disturbing trend, it takes ordinary people—like Tyrel Oates and people like you and me—to find our voice in our respective community, and to organize, and to speak out against these injustices.

In a time when people will camp outside an electronics store for the latest technology, but refuse to make it to the ballot box to cast their vote, this seems like a daunting task.  What is the use of having the latest phone or computer if we, as a society, aren’t using them as tools to advocate for social change?  Imagine the impact on this country’s current political and social paradigms if we all made a conscious effort to speak up and speak out.  The most powerful tool we have for change is one that was framed by the founding fathers of America: the power to vote.

With North Carolina facing one of the most nationally watched senatorial campaigns in the nation this year, I challenge everyone reading this to make it a point to vote on November 4.  If you aren’t registered to vote in this state, then find a cause in your home state, write a letter to an elected official, or sign a petition for something in which you feel passionately.

In the words of Tyrel Oates, a man who challenged a global economic powerhouse, I will leave you with this:

~ While the voice of one person in a world as large as ours may seem only like a whisper, the combined voices of each and all of us can move mountains! ~






[6][6] For twenty telling charts about income inequality: see The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality at:

Wait, EVERYONE should have fair access to housing??

October 8, 2014

By Celia Olson

One cannot hold an intelligent, comprehensive conversation about the Civil Rights Movement without discussing the impact of the Fair Housing Act.  The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was enacted in 1968 to ensure that every person in the United States has access to fair housing.[1]   The right to fair housing essentially means that every person has an equal opportunity to buy or lease a home.  Specifically, the FHA makes it unlawful to engage in any of the following practices based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent, sell, or negotiate housing
  • Deny a dwelling
  • Set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
  • Provide different housing services or facilities
  • For profit, persuade owners to sell or rent
  • Deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service related to the sale or rental of housing[2]

Generally, the FHA is first enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by investigating the complaint.  Then, if the complaint has merit, there are two choices for the plaintiff: (1) HUD attorneys will litigate the case on a person’s behalf in an administrative hearing, or (2) either the state or federal Attorney General will litigate the case in federal or state court.  Many of these suits are brought by showing that a class of persons was disparately impacted by a housing practice.

The disparate impact standard allows for a claim to succeed if the protected group can show that they, as a class of people, were negatively affected by a housing practice.  This standard does not require that the action was performed with intent to discriminate, just that a class of persons was negatively impacted.  These practices can include exclusionary zoning ordinances, discrimination in the administration of Section 8 vouchers, lending practices (redlining), mortgage insurance policies, landlord reference policies, occupancy restrictions, and placement and demolition of subsidized housing.  Arguably the worst of these practices is redlining.

Redlining and Reverse Redlining

The term “redlining” can be traced back to the late 1920s when the Federal Housing Administration would use a red pen to mark off areas of a map where granting loans was deemed “too risky.”  The term is now used mainly to describe discriminatory practices of lenders, specifically banks.  The modern practice of redlining occurs when a financial institution eliminates typically poor, inner-city neighborhoods from their lending outreach efforts.  Reverse redlining is a similar practice where lenders charge disproportionately higher rates for loans to minority borrowers in those areas.

In the 1930s, Durham, NC, was one extreme example of redlining.  In 1933 the federal government created the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) to make low-interest mortgages to homeowners struggling against the looming threat of foreclosure.   As part of their appraisal process, HOLC created a map of Durham that assigned four specific grades to residential areas:

  • First Grade (A): New areas where mortgage lenders will make maximum loans. These areas are homogeneous.
  • Second Grade (B): Completely developed. “Like a 1935 automobile—still good, but not what the people are buying today when [they] can afford a new one.”  Lenders still will make maximum loans.
  • Third Grade (C): Areas are aged. “Infiltration of lower grade population . . . as well as neighborhoods lacking homogeneity.”  Lenders make loans under the lending ratio for the A and B areas.
  • Fourth Grade (D): “Undesirable population or an infiltration of it.” Some lenders will refuse to make loans in these neighborhoods and others will lend on a conservative basis.[3]


The HOLC did not even attempt to mask that they were drawing lines that cut out minority populations.  Grades A and B both mentioned that the areas are “homogeneous” while C and D were “lacking homogeneity” or “undesirable.”

Redlining and reverse redlining were supposedly banned from lenders’ practice in 1968 when Congress passed the FHA.  The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 was later passed to encourage lenders to extend credit in those areas historically redlined.[4]  The CRA is still active today, though a “relatively hands-off law,” providing a tool for lenders and community organizations to promote credit in low and moderate-income communities.[5]  However, since the illegal practice of redlining has been removed from the public eye for so long, some banks have resumed questionable practices in the hopes of not getting caught.

New York v. Evans Bancorp

One such bank is Evans Bank, located in Buffalo, New York.  Evans Bank is a regional bank that services western New York.  The bank offers typical banking services: checking accounts, credit cards, home equity lines of credit, and mortgages.  Evans Bank proclaims “community mindedness” as one of its mission pillars, and purports to make all decisions locally, with the ability to tailor mortgage programs to meet the needs of its clients.[6]

While no one is questioning Evans Bank’s focus on local banking, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is questioning its discriminatory lending practices in the Buffalo area.  On September 2, 2014, Schneiderman filed suit in New York state court alleging that since 2009, Evans Bank has used a map defining its “trade area” to deliberately exclude Buffalo’s East Side, where more than 75% of Buffalo’s African-American population lives.  According to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Evans Bank received 1,114 applications for residential mortgages from 2009-2012.  Of these, only four came from African American applications.  Furthermore, other banks in the Buffalo area lent to residents of the East Side at a much higher rate than Evans Bank, which only bolsters Schneiderman’s argument.

This map by itself does not show discrimination sufficient to find that Evans Bank violated the FHA.  Schneiderman will have to show that Evans Bank’s lending practices resulted in the disparate impact of African-Americans, as a class.

The Huffington Post reported:

“Redlining is illegal, discriminatory, and must be made a thing of the past, once and for all,” Schneiderman said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is crucial that all New Yorkers, regardless of the color of their skin or the racial composition of their neighborhood, be afforded an equal opportunity to obtain credit.”

It is unclear whether Evans Bank will be able to successfully defend against this lawsuit.  However, regardless of the outcome it is obvious that reform is needed in the way financial institutions are regulated.  Even if Evans Bank’s practices are found to be lawful, they will still have a negative impact on Buffalo’s African-American community.

While Schneiderman’s investigation into discriminatory banking practices in New York has so far only found one target, Evans Bank, the investigation will continue.  It is very likely that more banks could be implicated in the process.

To read more:

[1] 42 U.S.C. § 3601-19.

[2] U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Fair Housing – It’s Your Right

[3] Dividing Durham: HOLC’s Survey of the Bull City, Kelly Smith and John Weis

[4] 12 U.S.C. § 2901.

[5] Here’s How The Community Reinvestment Act Led To The Housing Bubble’s Lax Lending, John Carney, The Business Insider (June 27, 2009)


Baby Formula: How Theft-Rings Impact an Entire Generation

October 6, 2014

Originally posted on Civil Rights Clinic:

By: M. Claire Donnelly

Think you can still walk into a store and grab a can of baby formula for your child?  Televisions, laptops, and phones are not the only popular items disappearing from retail shelves.  Over the past few years, baby formula theft has become an increasing problem nationwide.  Now, many stores have baby formula behind the counter or with anti-theft devices attached to it.  According to one newspaper: “stores are worrying less about teens stealing CDs than about … [organized theft of] millions of dollars of baby formula…”  Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, and Walgreens report losing millions due to theft of this product.  The Food Marketing Institute reported that baby formula was the fourth most-often-shoplifted good as early as 2004.  These thefts have caused many issues to arise in how mothers can get a simple can of baby formula to nourish their child.  Thus, not…

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