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ECBA and Co-Counsel File Discrimination Lawsuit Against New York City Department of Education and Public Schools Athletic League Calling for Equal Access to School Sports

ECBA filed a class action lawsuit today, representing a student-led organization Integrate NYC and four Black and Latino students denied access to New York City public high school sports, as co-counsel with civil rights advocacy group New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP.

The suit charges that the Department of Education (DOE) and Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) have engaged in racial discrimination by denying Black and Latino students equal opportunity to play high school sports.

On average, Black and Latino students have access to far fewer teams and sports, and the city spends much less per student than for students of other races. Thousands of Black and Latino New York City public high school students attend schools that offer no team sports whatsoever, and Black and Latino students are twice as likely as students of other races to attend schools without sports teams.

The lawsuit, filed pursuant to the New York City Human Rights Law, seeks to level the playing field and create equal access to high school sports for all students, regardless of race.

Read coverage from the New York times here.

Read New York Daily News’ coverage and the NYLPI’s press release for further information. You can also read additional reporting here and here.

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CAIR-NY, ECBA File Civil Rights Class Action Lawsuit to Block NYPD From Removing Arrestees’ Hijabs for Booking Photos

Together with the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA), filed a class action civil rights law lawsuit in federal court seeking an injunction to block the New York City Police Department (NYPD) from removing arrestees’ religious head coverings (like hijabs) for their booking photos.

The lawsuit claims that NYPD Patrol Guide Order 208-03 and 208-07 forces religiously-observant women to remove their head coverings for a booking photo, even when these garments leave the face completely unobstructed, as the hijab does.

CAIR-NY and ECBA filed the lawsuit this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the NYPD photograph policy violates the New York State Constitution, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

As the lawsuit notes, municipalities across the country allow arrestees to retain religious head covering for their booking photos. In addition, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles allows women to retain their hijab for driver’s license photos, and the U.S. State Department allows women to retain their hijab in passport photos.

NYPD booking photos are kept in arrestees’ files and computer databases where they are readily visible to officers and other men, compounding arrestees’ sense of violation.

“Our city is quick to make progressive promises, but slow to enact reforms,” said CAIR NY Legal Director Albert Fox Cahn. “This is a moment when Muslim New Yorkers need our support, not abuse. In just the past two years, New York State saw a 974 percent increase in anti-Muslim harassment, discrimination and hate crimes. It is intolerable that our officers force Muslim women to uncover against their will. It’s time for New York City to live-up to our promise of being a sanctuary for all faiths – we’ve fallen short for too long.”

“No New Yorker should be mugged for a mug shot,” said ECBA Partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “Stripping New Yorkers of religious head coverings that do not obscure their faces serves no legitimate purpose.”

“There is a rapidly-consolidating consensus among police departments across the United States that religious head coverings should not be removed for mug shots,” said ECBA Associate Emma L. Freeman. “New York should be leading this trend, not following it.”

“When they forced me to take off my hijab, I felt as if I were naked, I’m not sure if words can capture how exposed and violated I felt,” said plaintiff Jamilla Clark.

“I expected to be celebrating the holidays with my family, but instead I found myself being forced to undress in a room full of men, my beliefs being trampled,” said plaintiff Arwa Aziz.

“I fear this policy makes it harder for victims of domestic violence that we serve to report their abusers to the police,” said Turning Point for Women and Families’ Founder and Executive Director, Robina Niaz.

The lawsuit names two individual plaintiffs, including Jamilla Clark, a survivor of domestic violence, who was allegedly arrested on charges fabricated by her abuser. Even though the charges against Clark were later dropped, during the course of her arrest she was forced to remove her hijab.

According to the complaint, a “NYPD officer took a photograph of Ms. Clark as she wept and begged to put her hijab back on. The officer ignored Ms. Clark, stored the photograph in an online database and on Ms. Clark’s paper file, and showed it to numerous male officers.” An officer also allegedly mocked Clark’s Muslim faith. A second named plaintiff, Arwa Aziz, is a mother of two who was detained on the eve of the Eid holiday (an Islamic religious holiday) just as she planned to prepare the family’s holiday meal. Instead of celebrating with loved ones, she was held on charges allegedly fabricated by an estranged relative. The charges against Aziz were later dismissed, but she too was forced to remove her hijab.

According to the complaint, “officers refused to allow Ms. Aziz to keep her hijab on while having her picture taken. . . They told her, falsely: ‘It’s the law.’ Frantic, weeping, and bareheaded in a hallway full of men who do not belong to her immediate family, Ms. Aziz felt broken.”

A third plaintiff is the organization Turning Points for Women and Families (TPNY), a non-profit that works on behalf of Muslim women who have survived domestic violence. TPNY has expressed concern about how the NYPD policy, and the threat of retaliatory arrest, could deter survivors from contacting police when help is most needed.

For more information, read coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, New York Daily NewsGuardian, Haaretz, and Huffington Post. Additional coverage can be found here, here, here, here, and here.

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ECBA Files Class Action Challenging Over-detentions of People Entitled to Release on Bail from New York City Jails

On October 4, 2017, ECBA and co-counsel Romano & Kuan PLLC filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of presumptively innocent criminal defendants held for hours or days in New York City jails despite being entitled to release on bail. The complaint alleges that the City has been deliberately indifferent to the problem of unreasonable systemic delays in accepting bail payments and in processing detainees for release once bail is posted. The suit details a Kafka-esque system where antiquated technology, inadequate staffing, and indifference conspire to keep thousands of New Yorkers each year in jail for hours or days without any legal basis.

To read the complaint, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Daily News, click here.

ECBA’s Matt Brinckerhoff , Debbie Greenberger, and David Lebowitz, along with Julia Kuan of Romano and Kuan, represent the plaintiffs.

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Black Intelligence Detectives Bring Federal Suit Over Bias in NYPD Promotions

September 25, 2017 ­­– The law firm of Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA) and the New York Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of black detectives who were denied promotions for years within the elite Intelligence Division of the NYPD. For well over a decade the division has maintained a subjective promotions policy, administered by white supervisors, who refuse to promote deserving black detectives.

“Minority communities have for decades distrusted the NYPD, and for good reason,” said Elizabeth Saylor, a partner at ECBA and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “Pervasive discrimination against black detectives only deepens that distrust. The NYPD’s discriminatory culture needs to change.”

The lead plaintiffs in the case are Jon McCollum and Roland Stephens, as well as Sara Coleman, widow of Theodore Coleman. The three detectives each joined the Intelligence Division in 2001 and assisted with the cleanup and investigation of the September 11 attacks. They tracked hundreds of leads and suspects. In spite of their achievements and strong recommendations from their direct supervisors, they were repeatedly passed up for promotion because of their race.

Read the EEOC charge here,  and the EEOC finding here. Also, read the DOJ Right to Sue letter here, the federal complaint here, and a press release here.

To read recent coverage of these detectives’ experiences in NYPD Intel, click here for a news article by New York Times, here for an editorial by the Times, here for ABC, here for Spectrum NY1, here for the NY Daily News, and here for the NY Post.

In August 2018, Elizabeth Saylor was quoted in the NY Daily News discussing this case and new allegations of racial discrimination in the NYPD Intelligence Division, which you can read here.

ECBA’s Elizabeth SaylorEarl Ward, and Jessica Clarke, along with Chris Dunn with the NYCLU, represent Sara Coleman, the widow of Detective Theodore Coleman, and Detectives Jon McCollum and Roland Stephens.

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ECBA Attorneys Featured in Video About Debt Collection Class Action

Public Justice produced videos for the finalists for the 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. This one summarizes the Sykes v. Harris case, a years-long litigation in which ECBA, MFY Legal Services, and the New Economy Project won $60 million for a class of consumers victimized by illegal debt collection practices.

 

ECBA attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff and Debra Greenberger are featured in the video. Learn more about the case here and read the New York Times’ coverage of the settlement here.

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EEOC Finds NYPD Intel Division Discriminated Against Black Detectives; Sessions’ Justice Department Refuses to File Suit

On March 4, 2016, the EEOC determined that the Intelligence Division, one of the most elite and prestigious divisions within the NYPD, discriminates against African-American detectives. Specifically, it found that “black detectives in general, received lesser and later opportunities for promotion consistent with their qualifications.” Former Intel Detectives Jon McCollum, Roland Stephens, and Theodore Coleman, represented by ECBA and the NYCLU, initiated complaints with the EEOC that led to this determination. For five years, the EEOC reviewed data and interviewed countless witnesses before reaching this conclusion. The EEOC then transferred the case to Justice Department, which, under Jeff Sessions’ leadership, refused to file suit.

To read the New York Times’ recent coverage of these detectives’ experiences in NYPD Intel, click here.

ECBA’s Elizabeth Saylor, Earl Ward, Eisha Jain, and Jessica Clarke, along with Chris Dunn with the NYCLU, represent Sara Coleman, the widow of Detective Theodore Coleman, and Detectives Jon McCollum and Roland Stephens.

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ECBA Attorneys Finalists for 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award

Public Justice has announced that the attorneys for Sykes v. Mel S. Harris & Associates, LLC are finalists for the organization’s 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.  ECBA co-counseled with MFY Legal Services and the New Economy Project to bring a federal class action challenging a fraudulent debt collection scheme.

Under the settlement negotiated by the legal team after six years of hard-fought litigation, the defendants paid nearly $60 million to class members.  They also agreed to exit the debt collection business and to extinguish all outstanding consumer debt that was part of the scheme, which had a total face value of over $1 billion. In a cutting edge component of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to cooperate with a supplementary state court proceeding to vacate the default judgments en masse and, as a result, nearly 200,000 fraudulently-obtained default judgments have been vacated. More on the case and the settlement is available here.

ECBA attorneys working on this case include Matthew Brinckerhoff, Debra Greenberger, Elizabeth Saylor, Jonathan Abady and Jessica Clarke.

More information on Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year Award can be found here.

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Court Approves Settlement in Metropolitan Museum of Art Case

Praising ECBA’s work as “exemplary” and noting “the exceptional outcome achieved,” on June 16, 2017, Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich of the New York Supreme Court, New York County, granted final approval to ECBA’s settlement of a long-standing putative class action against the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The case, Saska et al v. Metropolitan Museum of Art, challenged the Museum’s practice of charging admission fees to visitors and failing to adequately disclose the Museum’s “pay what you wish” policy. The suit alleged that the Museum’s signage and online advertising misled visitors into paying the full advertised “price” for admission to the Museum, when, in fact, the Museum’s policy is to allow visitors to pay as much or as little as they wish.

Under the settlement, the Museum must revise its signage and online advertising to prominently describe the admission fees as “SUGGESTED” and to include the legend: “THE AMOUNT YOU PAY IS UP TO YOU.” In addition, the Museum will require third-party vendors of admission tickets to disclose the Museum’s “pay what you wish” policy, and will train cashiers and other Museum employees interacting with the public to explain the “pay what you wish” policy to visitors to avoid any confusion. ECBA’s Andrew G. Celli, Jr.Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, and David Lebowitz handled the case.

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NYPD Announces New Policies Designed to Diminish Language Barriers in Domestic Abuse Incidents

Legal Services NYC, with support and additional counsel from ECBA’s Matthew Brinckerhoff, has reached a settlement with the NYPD in Padilla-Torres v. City of New York, a 2013 federal discrimination lawsuit alleging that the civil rights of domestic violence survivors with limited English proficiency had been violated by denying them interpreters.  As part of the settlement, the NYPD has agreed to equip all officers in the field with smartphones that can interpret over 240 languages. Additionally, over the next 18 months, the NYPD will provide its officers with training on how to use this smartphone application and when to recognize that an interpreter is necessary.

The plaintiffs in the case were denied safety and interpreters after being attacked by their partners.  In response to calls of domestic abuse, officers would often let the abusers speak on behalf of their victims. In some of the more egregious instances, this would result in the arrest of the victims themselves, as was the case for Arlet Macareno, one of the plaintiffs.  After being pushed down a flight of stairs by her husband, the police arrived at Ms. Macareno’s home without a Spanish interpreter. Ms. Macareno tried to explain that she was the victim of her husband’s aggression, but instead of arresting him, the officers arrested Ms. Macareno and charged her with obstruction of justice.  This settlement will provide NYPD officers with the resources to ensure that no New Yorker is subjected to the same injustices as Ms. Macareno.

To read the New York Times’ coverage of the settlement, click here.  To read the Legal Services NYC press release, click here.

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Trump University Settlement in Jeopardy

The proposed settlement in the Trump University lawsuit came under attack today. One of the victims in the fraud and racketeering case against Donald J. Trump, pending before Hon. Gonzalo P. Curiel in San Diego federal court, objected to the proposed class action settlement. In her filing, class member Sherri B. Simpson pointed out that class members were promised, in writing, that they would receive an opportunity “to be excluded from any settlement” and take their own claims to trial against Mr. Trump. And yet, her objection notes, the settling parties signed a settlement agreement that provides class members may not opt out. Ms. Simpson’s objection asks Judge Curiel to enforce the promise and allow her – and any other victims who choose to pass on the proposed deal – to proceed to a fraud and racketeering trial against Mr. Trump.

Ms. Simpson is clear on what she is seeking: “We are now asking Judge Curiel to hold the parties to their promises and let victims decide if they want to settle with Mr. Trump or take their individual cases to trial. It’s a matter of fairness and of due process. People deserve their day in court. That’s why I filed the objection.”

ECBA attorneys Andrew Celli and Ilann Maazel represent Sherri Simpson along with Gary Friedman of Friedman Law Group and Markun Zusman Freniere & Compton LLP in California.

Read more about the case in press coverage by the New York Times.

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