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Foster Child Sues Agency Responsible for Placing Him in Home of Serial Abuser

On September 22, 2016, ECBA, along with Ressler and Tesh PLLC, filed a federal lawsuit in Long Island on behalf of a young, special needs child who was improperly placed by the agency SCO Family of Services in the home of an abusive pedophile—Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu. This child, who is originally from Washington State, was transferred through SCO Family of Services nearly 3,000 miles away to Mugaburu in Long Island. Once there, he suffered a fate similar to the many vulnerable boys forced to live with this madman. He was physically and mentally abused, subjected to long periods of starvation, and sexually assaulted. As alleged in the lawsuit, SCO Family of Services ignored repeated complaints about Mugaburu, including those from J.A. himself, warnings from Suffolk County’s foster agency, and numerous red flags about Mugaburu and his home.

Read more about the case and Mugaburu in press coverage by the New York Times and Daily News.

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Sweeping Settlement in Pine Bush anti-Semitic Bullying Case

As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, ECBA, along with co-counsel Michael Meth and Public Justice, has settled the Pine Bush anti-Semitic bullying case.  The comprehensive settlement requires significant reform to policies, training, curriculum, discipline, and tracking of anti-Semitic incidents, all under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Education and the federal court.  The five Jewish children were represented by Ilann M. Maazel, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Zoe Salzman.

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How Do We Stop School Bullying?

By Ilann M. Maazel

According to The Bully Project, over 13 million American children will be bullied this year. Not long ago, bullying was unrecognized as a national problem or even as a social phenomenon. But now, bullying is a major topic in most every school in the country. Bullying is a common backdrop to high-profile suicides, to school violence, to an increasingly urgent debate about children and social media.

A growing body of research tells us that bullying is not harmless teasing. Bullying involves a real or perceived imbalance of power, even coercive power. It is repeated. It can be physical (hitting), verbal (slurs, taunts), or psychological (social exclusion). It usually targets a single person, not a group. And its effects can be devastating.

Victims often experience anxiety, insecurity, low self-esteem, feelings of not belonging at school, depression, impaired concentration, poor academic performance, antisocial behavior, shame, loneliness and isolation, trouble making friends, increased health problems, and even suicide. Bullies, too, may experience serious problems: sadness, depressive symptoms, poor emotional adjustment, antisocial behavior, and a greater propensity to commit violence and engage in criminal behavior. In a Secret Service study, over two-thirds of school shooting incidents involved a shooter who felt bullied, persecuted, or threatened at school.

The more recent phenomenon of cyberbullying has only heightened the problem. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying can attack anonymously; it can go viral, with many people harassing the same victim at once; and adults usually are not sufficiently technologically savvy to monitor, much less prevent, cyberbullying.

Schools have a strong role to play here. As one case noted, “When teachers downplay bullying or view it as kids being kids, bullying rates are higher. . . . School control is at its worst when staff and dominant students model this behavior, bullying is ignored or reinforced, or it is accepted as normal and expected.”

The law holds school districts and administrators accountable for school bullying in at least some contexts. Schools and administrators are liable when they are deliberately indifferent to known severe and pervasive harassment based on certain characteristics: for example, race, color, or national origin (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), sex (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972), and disability (Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act). These forms of bullying are common. I receive calls all too often about bullying of African-Americans, of girls, of children with disabilities, and in a well-known case, of Jewish children in Pine Bush, New York, eighty miles from New York City. But what about children bullied for other reasons? Bullied because they are heavy, or wear glasses, or are just, different? Not every case involves racism, sexism, or a legally-protected characteristic. For those children, bullying—whatever its motivation—is also damaging, and often profoundly traumatizing.

These victims are largely unprotected by the law, and that should change. States, and Congress, should consider passing a law holding schools accountable for all types of bullying, not only bullying on the basis of limited, defined, protected characteristics.

Some will argue that such a law would open the floodgates to endless litigation. Schools, after all, cannot possibly regulate every social interaction among children. But such concerns are misplaced. The legal bar to holding schools accountable in bullying cases is already high: the bullying must be severe and pervasive. The school must know of the bullying. The school response must be so abjectly deficient that its action (or inaction) is deliberately indifferent to the problem. With these low legal expectations, why shouldn’t schools at least be held to this same minimal standard to address all forms of known, severe, pervasive bullying in school? We don’t expect a school to get an “A” to avoid litigation, but an “F” requires accountability and change.

From the Bill of Rights, to the Equal Protection Clause, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the history of social justice is in many ways a history of the law. Though the law cannot solve every social problem, legal accountability does lead to reform. In any event, shouldn’t we try?

13 million children are depending on us.

This article was first published on the Law.com Network on May 13, 2015

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$5 Million Settlement Awarded to Brothers Starved by their Foster Parents

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady settled a $5 million lawsuit against the Division of Youth and Family Services (“DYFS”) for neglecting to remove four brothers from the custody of foster parents who had been systematically starving their adopted children. Under the care of the Jackson parents, the oldest brother, age 19, stood at four feet tall and weighed 45 pounds. The three younger brothers, ages 14, 10, and 9, each weighed less than 40 pounds. The DYFS placed the children in the custody of the Jackson family and made numerous visits to the family home. Despite contact with the obviously abused children and warnings from case workers, the DYFS failed to remove the boys from the Jacksons’ custody. The three youngest brothers were represented by ECBA founding partner Richard Emery. To read the New York Times’ coverage of the settlement, click here.

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United States District Judge denies Pine Bush Central School District’s motion for summary judgment

In a 76-page opinion today, United States District Judge Kenneth M. Karas denied Pine Bush Central School District’s motion for summary judgment. The School District sought dismissal of a case brought by five Jewish students represented by ECBA, who were the victims of severe and pervasive anti-Semitic harassment and bullying at school. The bullying included anti-Semitic slurs, Holocaust jokes, physical assaults, coin throwing, white power chants, Hitler salutes, and anti-Semitic graffiti on textbooks, lockers, walls, desks, and a classroom poster of President Obama. In denying the District’s attempt to dismiss the case, Judge Karas ruled that a jury could reasonably find that the children had “suffered severe and discriminatory harassment, that the district had actual knowledge of the harassment, and that the district was deliberately indifferent to the harassment” and that the district “failed to take reasonable steps to combat anti-Semitic harassment.” The Plaintiffs are represented by Ilann M. Maazel, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Zoe Salzman of ECBA, as well as Public Justice, P.C., and Michael Meth, Esq.

To read Judge Karas’ opinion, click here. To read the New York Times’ reporting on the decision, click here.

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United States Supports Students in Anti-Semitic Bullying Case

As reported in the New York Times, the United States today filed a statement of interest supporting the plaintiffs in T.E. v. Pine Bush Central School District. T.E. is a federal civil rights case brought by three Jewish families whose children were victims of pervasive anti-Semitic harassment in Pine Bush schools. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York concluded that the evidence “is sufficient for a jury to find that the district failed to respond to pervasive anti-Semitic harassment in its schools,” and that the case should go forward to trial.

To read the New York Times article, please click here. A copy of the statement of interest can be found here; a copy of the students’ brief in opposition to summary judgment can be found here.

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Anti-Semitic Bullying Case in Pine Bush Featured in The New York Times

This morning, the New York Times front page featured T.E. v. Pine Bush Central School District, a civil rights lawsuit brought by five Jewish students arising from years of pervasive anti-Semitic harassment and bullying in Pine Bush schools. The bullying included anti-Semitic slurs, Holocaust jokes, physical assaults, coin throwing, white power chants, Hitler salutes, and anti-Semitic graffiti on textbooks, lockers, walls, desks, and a classroom poster of President Obama. The Plaintiffs are represented by Ilann M. Maazel, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Zoe Salzman of ECBA, as well as Public Justice, P.C., and Michael Meth, Esq.

To read the full article, please click here. For more information about the case click here.

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ECBA Files Lawsuit Alleging Neglect and Mistreatment at Brooklyn Group Home

On July 18, 2012, ECBA filed a lawsuit in federal court against Eihab Human Services, Inc., alleging serious neglect and mistreatment of B.W., a young autistic man who was in the facility’s care. Over the course of his stay with Eihab, B.W. was taken to the hospital on six separate occasions. One of those occasions occurred following an incident in which B.W. nearly choked to death on a corncob, the result of grossly inadequate supervision and staff training. In the wake of the choking incident, the complaint alleges, the facility and its employees continued to mistreat B.W. and ignored his medical needs. Within three months, he became severely malnourished, his weight dropping to a mere 56 pounds. In addition to Eihab’s neglect, the lawsuit also alleges that B.W. was frequently left unattended in soiled clothing and suffered numerous unexplained bruises and cuts. B.W. is represented by ECBA’s Ilann M. Maazel, Elizabeth Saylor, and Jessica Clarke.

To read more about the case, go to  nydailynews.com or  nytimes.com. To read the complaint, click  here.

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