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The Impact of September 11, 2001: New York’s Experience

By Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., Former Director,
New York District Office

It is impossible for many of our EEOC New York District Office employees to forget the image of the devastation that was caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  With our office located only a few hundred feet across the street from the site of the twin towers, we saw, in a matter of minutes, the two skyscrapers disappear in a heap of steel, debris and dust.  As the towers collapsed, thousands of innocent working people lost their lives.

Because our office was located in an adjoining building at 7 World Trade Center, we were directed to speedily evacuate our workplace. Later that evening, the office building—our home away from home—also collapsed. The structure that housed our former offices was reduced to a pile of rubble and rock.

Never before were we so anxious to hear from one another.  We tried desperately to reach each other by cell-phone, email and through personal contacts. We also worked feverishly to make sure that every member of the staff was accounted for and safe. In the hours following the attacks, the safety of our family of employees became paramount.  When we finally learned that all were reported to be safe, our focus then turned to the expeditious reopening of the office.

Collective efforts were immediately made, at the headquarters and local levels, to bring the New York office back on line. Immediately, many of the employees benefited greatly from the agency’s counseling and health assistance programs that were made readily available. Additionally, we were buoyed by the kind sentiments and concerns offered by many of our colleagues, especially those expressed in the form of “care packages” prepared by the staff in the Houston District Office. To make the office fully operational again, a task force was established. With the full support of the Chair, a course of action was shaped and articulated.

Through extensive coordination and work-sharing, our New York office made quick progress in becoming operational once again. The Boston office staff answered intake calls that were re-routed, until we could begin temporary operations in Newark, New Jersey.  During this transition, we were overwhelmed with the support and cooperation from the plaintiff and defense bars, as well as from the community-at-large. Efforts were undertaken immediately to reconstruct the lost files, while our temporary office, located at 210 Varick Street was being renovated to house the staff.  Through this outpouring of compassion and resources, the New York office was able to approach normal operations by the end of the fiscal year.

Once re-established, our New York office worked to combat the new realities of the post-September 11, 2001, employment landscape.  To address the “backlash” concerns, we held regular community forums with groups like the New York Council on American Islamic Relations, and made outreach presentations to explain the agency’s policy on religion and national origin discrimination.   Further, working together with the plaintiffs’ bar and stakeholders, we were able to identify cases of deplorable national origin discrimination.