On September 30, 1963, Governor Frank G. Clement signed Executive Order 18 creating the Tennessee Human Relations Commission. At that time, the Commission’s purpose was to advise the public on their human rights, researching and making reports on human relations and reporting these findings to the Governor. The Commission accomplished this by working closely with other governmental agencies with similar duties. In 1967, legislation was passed creating the Tennessee Commission on Human Development which absorbed the duties of the previous Commission, adopted rules and regulations to govern its proceedings and added a prohibition against sex discrimination. In 1978, the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) became law transforming the Commission from an advisory agency to an enforcement agency. Current Commissioner Jocelyn Wurzburg of Memphis, Tennessee was the author of this legislation, and her leadership was critical to its passage. In 1979 and 1980, the law was amended to include disability and age as protected classes. In 1983, the Commission officially became the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC).

In 1984, the law was amended to prohibit discrimination in housing. In 1990, the expansion was extended to include familial status and disability as protected classes. Today, the THRA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, age (employment only), familial status (housing only), and disability (employment and housing only). In 2009, the THRA was expanded and given the authority to verify that state governmental entities comply with requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). Title VI prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color or national origin. THRC has had collaborative partnerships with the federal government for more than 30 years. In 1979, the Commission partnered with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) through an employer monitoring grant, now expanded into a work-share agreement. In 1985, THRC began its partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a substantially equivalent agency. These relationships allow the Commission to investigate cases involving alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 and Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act). The mission of the THRC is to safeguard individuals from discrimination through enforcement and education.

The Commission executes its mission through a 9-member Board of Commissioners and staff of 33 in four offices (Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville). Through 10 Rule 31 trained mediators, the Commission has operated a successful Mediation Program since its reactivation in 2008. The THRA and Tennessee Disability Act are enforced through receiving, mediating, investigating, conciliating and, when necessary, litigating allegations of discrimination. Since 2009, the Commission has also coordinated the state of Tennessee’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Commission uses a variety of public meetings, outreach events and resources to educate the public about their rights.