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$6.6 Million Class Action Settlement on Behalf of Medical Residents

On behalf of hundreds of former medical residents who trained in The New York and Presbyterian Hospital’s Weill Cornell Campus Residency Program between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 2001, ECBA obtained preliminary approval of a $6.632 million settlement. Former medical residents had commenced an action in the SDNY claiming that the hospital acted against their interest when it agreed with the IRS not to seek refunds of Federal Insurance Contribution Act (“FICA”) taxes paid by or on behalf of itself and medical residents in the NYP/Weill Cornell Residency Program and failed to disclose the agreement.  Two related lawsuits were filed as class actions by different sets of plaintiffs under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23, and both were consolidated. If you are a member of the class, please provide your current address, phone  number, and the years you were a resident to the administrator by calling 877-804-9743 or emailing info@nyficasettlement.com.  More information will soon be available at www.nyficasettlement.com.

To view the Settlement Notice and Declaration of Previous Refund, click here.
To view the Joint Stipulation of Settlement and Release, click here.
To view the Order Granting Preliminary Approval of Class Settlement, Conditionally, Certifying Rule 23 Settlement Class, Appointing Class Class Counsel, and Approving Proposed Notice Procedures, click here.

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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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L’Express Profiles Woody Allen, Paul Auster — and ECBA’s Ilann Maazel

In its publication “Fabuleuse New York,” French magazine L’Express profiled prominent New Yorkers, including Woody Allen, Paul Auster, Diane von Furstenberg, and ECBA partner Ilann M. Maazel.  For more, click here.

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Historic Agreement Reached on Jail Brutality at Rikers Island

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (ECBA), together with The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project and Ropes & Gray, as well as the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) have reached an agreement with New York City to reform the widespread abuse of prisoners by correction staff on Rikers Island.  This agreement would settle Nunez v. New York, the 2012 class action brought to halt excessive force by City jail staff.  DOJ joined as a plaintiff in December 2014.

Today, the plaintiffs, DOJ, and the City have notified the Court the outlines of the agreement which would become an enforceable federal consent decree, monitored by an independent correctional expert. The Agreement would require the Department of Correction to implement new policies and practices to curb the rampant misuse of force which has plagued Rikers Island for the past many decades.

Details about these reforms are in the attached letter to the Court, sent by the Department of Justice with all parties’ agreement.

The Agreement must be approved by the Department of Justice and Mayor’s Office before it is submitted to the Court for a hearing and approval if the Court finds it fair, reasonable, and adequate.

“This is an historic agreement to fix the long-standing problem of excessive force which has plagued Rikers Island for decades,” said Jonathan S. Abady of ECBA, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The agreement is the product of extraordinary work on the part of all parties,” said Abady.  “What could have been an adversarial process was converted into a collaborative enterprise where everyone embraced the need for lasting reform and then committed themselves to measures that would achieve that,” he added.

To read the New York Times‘ coverage, click here and here.

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ECBA and Legal Aid File Lawsuit on Behalf of Rikers Inmate Beaten Nearly to Death

Together with the Legal Aid Society, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Michael Cruz, who was beaten by correction officers at Rikers Island so brutally that he suffered massive internal bleeding and was required to undergo emergency surgery to remove his spleen. Cruz, who was only 20 years old at the time, was assaulted by multiple correction officers after asking for a mental health evaluation prior to being sent into solitary confinement. Apparently annoyed by his request, multiple officers–with the tacit approval of a captain–repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Cruz, leaving him with a fractured rib. After weeks of complaints about his pain, Mr. Cruz was finally taken to the hospital, where his massive internal bleeding was discovered. Hospital staff informed him that if he had been left in his cell untreated much longer, Mr. Cruz could have died.

Mr. Cruz is represented by ECBA attorneys Jonathan Abady, Samuel Shapiro, and Ali Frick, and by the Legal Aid Society. Read the New York Post’s coverage here. To read the full complaint, click here.

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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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Andrew Wilson Publishes Article on Gerrymandering

Andrew Wilson published an article titled “Population predominance in Racial Gerrymandering,” with the American Bar Association’s civil rights section. The article addresses the Supreme Court’s recent treatment of racial gerrymandering and the Court’s statement on the role of equal-population objectives in redistricting analysis. To read the full article, click here: Population Predominance in Racial Gerrymandering.

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Port Authority Police Union Sues Over Searches of Officers’ Cellphones

ECBA filed suit in federal court on behalf of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Benevolent Association and a former police officer against the Port Authority alleging unconstitutional searches. The suit alleges that the Port Authority unlawfully seized and searched Port Authority police officers’ private cell phones during an investigation into possible criminal conduct. The searches came just months after the Supreme Court ruled in Riley v. California that searches of private cell phones implicate the Fourth Amendment, at least when those searches occur incident to arrest. The plaintiffs are represented by ECBA’s Richard D. Emery, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Ted Oxholm.

To read the New York Times’ coverage of the filing, click here.

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Lawsuit Filed Against Suffolk County Apartment Complex for Racial Discrimination

ECBA filed suit in federal district court alleging racially discriminatory renting practices at Mayfair Garden Apartments, a 107-unit apartment complex in Suffolk County on Long Island. ERASE Racism, Inc. and the Fair Housing Justice Center worked together to send similarly qualified white and African-American testers posing as potential renters to the defendants’ property to inquire about the availability of apartments and rental terms. The tests revealed that the building superintendent treated African-American testers less favorably than white testers during 2014. ERASE Racism and the Fair Housing Justice Center are joined as plaintiffs in the suit by the African Americans testers who were discriminated against. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk and Theodor O. Oxholm.

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$2.25 Million Settlement for Abuse of Disabled Adult in a New York State Facility

The family of K.C., a 22-year-old severely disabled man, settled a federal lawsuit in Albany against staff at the O.D. Heck Developmental Center, a New York State facility for the disabled. The lawsuit centered on the physical and verbal abuse K.C. suffered at the hands of the staff members. The abuse was first revealed by a whistleblower, who described K.C.’s horrific treatment in a sworn deposition. K.C. died in early 2011, after he was found to be severely malnourished. The family was represented by ECBA attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Hayley Horowitz.

To read the New York Times coverage of the case, click here. To read the press release, click here.