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.

Click here to read New York Times coverage of the case.


Ten ECBA Attorneys Named as Super Lawyers; One Named as Rising Star

ECBA is proud to announce that partners Richard Emery, Andrew Celli, Matthew Brinckerhoff, Jonathan Abady, Ilann Maazel, Earl Ward, Hal Lieberman, Dan Kornstein, Andrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2017. Associate Alanna Kaufman was named as a Rising Star. The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found here.


Andrew Wilson Selected to Serve as Co-Chair of the American Bar Association’s Civil Rights Litigation Committee

Andrew Wilson has been selected to serve as Co-Chair of the Civil Rights Litigation Committee for the American Bar Association.  With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. The latest ABA news can be found at and on Twitter @ABANews.


Second Circuit Affirms Subpoena in Worldwide Art Dispute

A federal appellate court has upheld ECBA’s clients’ request to obtain discovery in aid of foreign proceedings under 28 U.S.C. s. 1782. In a victory that further defines the contours of the statute, the decision holds for the first time in the Second Circuit that (1) a victim complainant can obtain documents for use in a foreign criminal prosecution, regardless of whether the victim is seeking reparations; and (2) documents obtained for use in one foreign proceeding may be used in other foreign proceedings, absent a contrary court order from the 1782 court. The applicants were represented by ECBA attorneys Dan Kornstein, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Doug Lieb.

A full copy of the decision can be found here.

Read more about the underlying dispute in a profile published in the New Yorker.


NY AG Announces Successor Settlement to ECBA Race Discrimination Case Against Former Pro-Nazi Residential Community

The New York Attorney General announced a settlement agreement with the German American Settlement League (“GASL”), to continue reforms achieved in a previous settlement obtained by ECBA. The GASL, a membership-based nonprofit, was alleged to have excluded non-whites from purchasing homes in its Long Island community since the late 1930s.  The new AG settlement includes changes to GASL’s membership policies, the replacement of its President and Treasurer, and regularly reporting to the AG to demonstrate compliance. An interview with ECBA attorney Andrew Wilson concerning the two GASL settlements on CBC’s “As It Happens,” can be heard here. The entire segment is available here.

Plaintiffs in the ECBA matter were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and O. Andrew F. Wilson.


City Agrees to Pay $6 million to Settle Wrongful Conviction Suit

The City of New York has agreed to pay $6 million to Derrick Deacon, a man who spent over twenty years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Mr. Deacon was initially convicted in 1989 as the result of egregious misconduct by law enforcement and prosecutors. After new evidence came to light showing that Mr. Deacon was not the perpetrator, he was granted a retrial and acquitted in minutes. This suit, filed after his acquittal, challenged the official misconduct used to initially convict Mr. Deacon. The New York Daily News covered the settlement here.

ECBA attorneys Earl Ward, Andrew Wilson, Hayley Horowitz, and Jessica Clarke represented Mr. Deacon, together with Glen A. Garber, P.C.


Andrew Wilson Moderates ABA Roundtable on Public/Private Litigation

Andrew Wilson moderated a Roundtable entitled “Civil Rights Litigation:  Navigating Successful Pro Bono Partnerships,” on June 7, 2016. The panel explored the opportunities, challenges, and best practices for effective partnerships on pro bono litigation, particularly in the civil rights arena. The discussion was presented by the American Bar Association’s Civil Rights Litigation Committee and the panelists included: Maia Goodell, Supervising Attorney, MFY Legal Services, Inc., Edward A. Hailes, Jr., General Counsel/Managing Director at Advancement Project, Harlene Katzman, Pro Bono Coordinator at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, and Jennifer L. Kroman, Director of Pro Bono Practice, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.

A recording of the panel may be found at the American Bar Association’s website, in early July.


Ten ECBA Attorneys Named as Super Lawyers; Two Named as Rising Stars

ECBA is proud to announce that partners Richard EmeryAndrew CelliMatthew Brinckerhoff, Jonathan AbadyIlann MaazelEarl WardHal Lieberman, Dan Kornstein, Andrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2016. Partner Debra Greenberger and associate Hayley Horowitz were named as Rising Stars. The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found here.


ECBA Settles Race Discrimination Case Against Former Pro-Nazi Residential Community

A lawsuit filed by ECBA against the German American Settlement League (“GASL”) alleging racial discrimination settled this month for $175,000 and broad injunctive relief. The complaint alleged that GASL, a membership-based nonprofit, had excluded non-whites from purchasing homes in its Long Island community since the late 1930s. GASL has agreed to remove its racially restrictive membership rules and to permit advertising, open houses, and other forms of public marketing of homes for sale. Among other things, GASL Board members have agreed to attend fair housing training and to permit Long Island Housing Services to monitor its applications and organizational records for several years.

Plaintiffs were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and O. Andrew F. Wilson.


Court Approves Settlement in Cooper Union Case

Justice Nancy Bannon of the New York Supreme Court approved the settlement in ECBA’s case challenging the decision to charge tuition at The Cooper Union. ECBA represents the Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU), a group of alumni, faculty, and students which filed suit in May 2014, arguing that charging tuition violated the trust established by Peter Cooper and seeking to reinstitute free tuition.  After the CSCU filed suit, the New York Attorney General launched an investigation into the mismanagement of the school finances.   The settlement, which includes CSCU, the Attorney General, and the school, requires the college to commit to exploring the return to free tuition; establish a free education committee on the board of trustees; increase student, alumni, and faculty representation on the board; establish  the Associates of Cooper Union; and accept the oversight of an independent financial monitor.

In approving the settlement agreement, Justice Bannon wrote that the plan agreed upon “will most effectively accomplish the general purposes of Peter Cooper’s trust in the context of the present financial position of The Cooper Union.”  ECBA lead attorney Richard D. Emery said: “We are extremely optimistic that within a matter of years, the vision of Peter Cooper can be once again in place.”

Read coverage of the settlement approval in The New York Times here.

ECBA attorneys Richard D. Emery, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Zoe Salzman represented the Committee to Save Cooper Union.