An attorney who has spent much of her career with Connecticut’s state-sponsored civil rights agency has now been named executive director of the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
Tanya Hughes had been serving as the group’s interim executive director for four months following the retirement of longtime executive director Robert Brothers, who had been at the helm of the agency for 20 years. Hughes was appointed to the executive director’s position on a full-time basis on Nov. 1.
“The Commission voted both unanimously and enthusiastically to appoint Tanya Hughes as executive director because our goal is to solidify our position as the nation’s leading governmental civil rights agency,” said Gary Collins, the chairman of the nine-member CHRO board, who was appointed to his position by Gov. Dannel Malloy on July 1. “As we turn our attention to the development and execution of a strategic plan that will make us an even more efficient and effective agency, Tanya Hughes’ demonstrated leadership and ability to drive change will be the single most important component to our success.”
Hughes, a 19-year employee of the CHRO, has served as the interim executive director since July 1. Her previous roles included service as an investigator and staff attorney before assuming the leadership of the Bridgeport office.
Under Hughes’ leadership, the commission received $227,000 in federal grant money to stop discrimination in housing. CHRO has also taken a leading role in the newly established Racial Profiling Prohibition Project, holding community forums on improving relations between citizens and the police.
“Our focus is on programs that will create understanding between people and reduce discrimination whether based on race, gender, disability or other factors protected by Connecticut law,” Hughes stated. “I am very excited to have the commissioners’ confidence to guide the commission into a new era.”
Recent budget cuts led to staff reductions at the CHRO. As of this past summer, there are now about 70 employees, many of them lawyers, down from a recent peak of 103. But a CHRO news release says that Hughes, as interim executive director, has been instrumental in increasing staffing levels.
According to state records, about 85 percent of the commission’s caseload is employment discrimination matters. About 10 percent relate to housing, with the remaining 5 percent tied to credit discrimination or other claims. The commission runs on a budget of about $7.1 million each year.
Collins said in a July interview that the next executive director will be called upon to improve the efficiency of the agency, while expanding its outreach and educational efforts. One recent improvement, he said, was the number of new cases closed out within the 370-day statutory deadline. Before 2011, that rate was lower than 70 percent. In the past year, the closure rate has improved to 94 percent. Collins is looking to build on that progress.
The CHRO has also faced criticism in recent years, as attorneys who defend employers in discrimination claims have argued that the agency has been improperly awarding plaintiff’s legal fees and emotional damages when it lacks the jurisdiction to do so.
Hughes was born in Anderson, S.C., and raised in Buffalo, N.Y. She graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta and attended the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law. The first eight years of her legal career were spent at the New York City Department of Law, where she prosecuted child abuse and neglect cases. Hughes moved to New Haven in 1994 and was hired by the CHRO that same year. In 1998 she became regional director, a position she held until this year.
Hughes and her husband, Larry, have three children; two of them are adults and one a ninth-grader in a New Caanan school. Hughes has been active in a number of nonprofit organizations, including the southern Connecticut chapter fo the Sickle Cell Disease Association and the Bridgeport Parent Leadership Training Institute.