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.


ECBA Represents Avaaz in Motion to Quash Monsanto Subpoena

On behalf of the Avaaz Foundation (“Avaaz”), a global civic movement, ECBA has filed a motion in New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking to quash a sweeping document subpoena from Monsanto Company, the multinational agrochemical and biotech company.  The subpoena seeks documents reflecting Avaaz’s multi-year effort to persuade governments worldwide to ban the chemical agent glyphosate, which is believed to be the world’s most widely-used herbicide.  Glyphosate is the active agent in Roundup®, a Monsanto product.  In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer issued a public evaluation concluding that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic in humans.”  Avaaz, with over 46 million members and staff in 23 countries, has been described by The Guardian as “the globe’s largest and most powerful online activist network,” and the campaign against glyphosate is just one of Avaaz’s many member-driven campaigns.

The Monsanto subpoena – which was issued in January 2018 as part of a personal-injury case in which agricultural workers are suing Monsanto over claims that they contracted cancer after exposure to Roundup® — seeks to compel the production of virtually every document in Avaaz’s possession concerning its political activities around glyphosate and Monsanto.  If enforced, the subpoena would require the turnover of Avaaz’s confidential internal communications and deliberations, campaign plans, research and source material, and even member and donor information.  ECBA’s filing, which can be found here, argues that the subpoena violates the First Amendment of the Constitution and New York’s Reporter’s Shield law; calls for the production of documents that are irrelevant to the underlying personal-injury case; and imposes an undue burden on Avaaz.  The GuardianEco Watch, and other media outlets, have reported on the case.

Avaaz is represented in this matter by ECBA attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Douglas E. Lieb.


ECBA Sues Large NYC Property Manager for Disability and Source of Income Discrimination

On February 21, 2018, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (ECBA) filed suit in federal district court on behalf of Alfred Spooner and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) alleging disability and source of income discrimination against Goldfarb Properties—a managing agent of over 6,000 apartments throughout New York City and its surrounding suburbs.

The lawsuit challenges Goldfarb’s practice of imposing a minimum annual income requirement on low-income, disabled, housing applicants like Mr. Spooner who use state-funded vouchers to pay the majority of their rent. After Mr. Spooner’s rental application was rejected, the FHJC sent testers posing as potential renters with rental subsidies and vouchers to the defendant’s properties to inquire about the availability of apartments. The tests revealed that Goldfarb categorically turned away these applicants even though they had the means to pay the full rent because they did not make forty-three times the rent in income—a practical impossibility for any person eligible for a disability-and-income-based voucher. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and David Berman.


16 Years After First ECBA Class Action, Mayor and City Council Agree to Close Rikers Island

Sixteen years after ECBA filed its first class action alleging a pattern and practice of  brutality and poor training, discipline, and investigations of corrections officers at Rikers Island, Mayor De Blasio and the City Council have agreed to shut down Rikers Island once and for all.  In 2001, ECBA filed the original lawsuit, Ingles v. Toro, with co-counsel Legal Aid Society and Sullivan & Cromwell. The case settled in 2003, but the settlement failed to reduce use of force by corrections officers on Rikers Island. As a result, in 2011, ECBA filed a new class action, Nunez v. City of New York, with co-counsel Legal Aid Society and Ropes & Gray, again alleging a pattern and practice of brutality and cover-ups by corrections officers at Rikers Island. Nunez, and a parallel Department of Justice lawsuit, settled in 2015, resulting in thousands of new cameras, a federal monitor, and other sweeping reforms at Rikers. The case also brought to light the fundamental inhumanity and unfairness of the entire institution.

ECBA lawyers involved in the Rikers cases include Jonathan Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, Katherine Rosenfeld, Debra Greenberger, Zoe Salzman, and Vasudha Talla.


ECBA Settles Disability Wrongful Death Case for $2.25 Million

As reported in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, ECBA has settled the case of Eddie Velasquez, a disabled man who died in a New York State group home. Eddie choked to death on a piece of turkey left unsecured and uncut in a kitchen refrigerator. An internal investigation revealed lapses in training and staffing, and a series of failures by New York State employees that led to Eddie’s death. ECBA attorney Ilann Maazel represented the Velasquez family in the case.


ECBA Attorney Jessica Clarke Quoted in BBC Article on Sexual Harassment in Housing

ECBA attorney Jessica Clarke was quoted in a BBC article titled: “A woman’s choice – sexual favours or lose her home.” The article details a case that Jessica Clarke worked on while an attorney at the Justice Department, in which women were coerced into sexual encounters with men who were in control of their housing. The case was in Laurinburg, North Carolina and involved two employees of a public housing agency that administered the Section 8 voucher program. The two men threatened to revoke housing vouchers for numerous women unless they acquiesced to their sexual demands. As Jessica describes in the article “[t]he breadth of it was so shocking. . . . When the person who has the keys to your door, who controls where you live is a predator, there’s nothing scarier.”

To read the full article, click here.


Ilann Maazel Appears on Inside City Hall with Errol Louis About CFPB Lawsuit

ECBA partner Ilann M. Maazel appeared yesterday evening on NY1 with Linda Levy, CEO of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union. ECBA represents the credit union in its case challenging President Trump’s appointment of Michael Mulvaney as Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“[The CFPB] is being run by someone who should not be there, someone who is there illegally,” Mr. Maazel told NY1’s Errol Louis. “We’re in a state of absolute regulatory chaos.”

Oral argument was held this morning in federal court on the credit union’s emergency motion to remove Mr. Mulvaney and on President Trump and Mr. Mulvaney’s motion to dismiss the case.

Watch the interview here.  Read more about the lawsuit here and here.


Court Rules Cosmetic Surgeon Illegally Denied Surgery to Patient Living with HIV

Judge Analisa Torres of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that a New York cosmetic surgeon violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law when he refused to treat patients living with HIV. Emery Celli and the HIV Law Project represent Mark Milano, a man living with HIV who was summarily turned away by Dr. Emanuel Asare after Asare said he had a policy against performing surgery on people living with HIV. The District Court granted summary judgment to Mr. Milano and the United States government, which also sued the physician, ruling that Asare’s blanket policy violated the law.

“Even after having lived with HIV for 30 years, the statement from Dr. Asare that it was his policy to never perform any procedures on people with HIV was like a punch in the gut,” Mr. Milano said. “It left me on the verge of tears. I had never experienced such blatant HIV discrimination in my life. Since then, I have heard similar stories from friends about other cosmetic surgeons. No one should have to go through this. People with HIV have as much right to cosmetic surgery as anybody else.”

Mr. Milano was represented by Matthew Brinckerhoff and Ali Frick. Speaking to the Associated Press, Ms. Frick praised the court for “elevat[ing] science and facts over fear and prejudice.” Read the AP’s story here; the New York Law Journal also covered the decision. Judge Torres’ opinion is available here.


Credit Union Files Emergency Motion to Remove Michael Mulvaney from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

This morning, the law firm of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA) filed an emergency motion in federal court on behalf of the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union to remove Michael Mulvaney as Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

The case challenges President Trump’s recent, illegal takeover of the CFPB through his White House employee, Mr. Mulvaney.

“We believe strongly that the CFPB must be an independent agency, and the succession process as outlined in the law is the only way to ensure that independence,” said Linda Levy, CEO of the Credit Union.

“Donald Trump’s takeover of the CFPB is a naked, illegal power grab,” said Ilann M. Maazel, a partner at ECBA, and lead counsel for the Credit Union. “We are asking the court to end the regulatory chaos and end Mr. Mulvaney’s tenure before he destroys the agency completely.”

“Mr. Mulvaney is gutting the CFPB every day he is permitted to remain at its helm. The CFPB must be able to do its job of holding financial institutions accountable, free from political meddling,” said Debra Greenberger, a partner at ECBA, and counsel for the Credit Union.

The Credit Union is a not-for-profit, federally-regulated financial cooperative owned by its approximately 8,500 members and dedicated to providing high-quality financial services and community development investments in low income, immigrant and other underserved communities.

The original federal complaint can be found here.

Read coverage of the motion in the Washington Examiner and The Intercept.