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The Journal News Features ECBA’s Mamaroneck Race Discrimination Lawsuit 

On June 11, 2020, Sophie Grosserode of the Westchester/Rockland Journal News featured ECBA’s lawsuit on behalf of a Mamaroneck family against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, which alleges that the School District failed to address years of egregious student-on-student racial harassment.  The article highlights prior allegations that Mamaroneck tolerated racism in its schools and emphasizes that numerous families have since reached out to the firm to recount their own experiences of abuse and harassment.

Plaintiffs A.A., B.A., and C.A. are represented by ECBA attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma L Freeman. Read a copy of the Complaint here.

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Westchester Students File Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Mamaroneck Union Free School District For Failing to Address Egregious Racial Harassment

May 18, 2020 – Today, A.A.—a 15-year-old African-American teenager—and his 14-year-old sister, B.A., filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, Mamaroneck High School, and their employees for their indifference to years of racial harassment. The lawsuit (filed anonymously to protect the children’s privacy), alleges school administrators took inadequate steps to ameliorate pervasive racism.

The Mamaroneck Union Free School District has been the subject of multiple investigations by state and federal agencies for racial discrimination and animosity—including by the federal Office of Civil Rights and the State Education Department. Despite these investigations and numerous pleas from parents at School Board and Town Hall meetings, the lawsuit alleges the Defendants have taken insufficient steps to address the District’s severe racism problem.

After years of abuse, when he was thirteen, A.A. asked his Mamaroneck Middle School guidance counselor: “How many times is enough for the N-word to be mentioned?” The lawsuit recounts a litany of racial harassment spanning nearly a decade, including an incident in B.A.’s second-grade when a student shouted, “Africans Are Annoying!” as other students laughed. In seventh grade, one of A.A.’s classmates mimicked whipping another, and said: “I’m whipping you like a n***r.” In ninth grade, A.A.’s classmates ask him if he was a “BBC,” meaning “big black c**k.” Other classmates placed microscope covers over their heads during Biology class, stating that they were in the KKK and telling A.A. that he could not join.

The family reported incident after incident, but the lawsuit alleges that administrators failed to take adequate steps to address the abuse. Instead, the case argues, they offered platitudes about diversity, claimed students were going through phases, or insisted those students were otherwise good people.

O. Andrew F. Wilson, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, said: “Racism in our schools is intolerable. And superficial efforts to address systemic problems are not enough. We must hold our educators responsible not only to act, but to act effectively.”

“What happened to A.A. and B.A. should never happen to any child. Racist abuse is impermissible everywhere, but it is especially traumatic in schools, where young children like A.A. and B.A. internalize the cruel words of their peers. Defendants’ inexplicable choice to accept rampant bigotry is not just unlawful—it is immoral,” said ECBA attorney Emma L. Freeman.

Reporting on the lawsuit appears in The Loop, here, in Lohud, here, in Black Westchester, here, and in Patch, here.

A.A. and B.A. are represented by ECBA attorneys Andrew Wilson and Emma L. Freeman.  You can read a copy of the Complaint here.

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ECBA Client Files Religious Head Covering Class Action Against Yonkers

April 8, 2020 – 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 Yonkers Police Department (YPD) from removing arrestees’ religious head coverings for mug shots and while in custody.

The lawsuit claims that the YPD maintains a policy that forces arrestees to remove their religious head coverings while in custody—sometimes for a mug shot that is kept forever, visible to anyone with access to the YPD’s records, and sometimes for no reason at all. The YPD enforces this policy against all arrestees who wear religious head coverings—even when those head coverings, like a hijab, turban, or yarmulke, leave the entire face unobstructed.

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 YPD removal 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 applicants to retain religious head coverings for driver’s license photos; the U.S. State Department maintains the same accommodation for passport photos.

In a statement, the CAIR-NY Litigation Director, Ahmed Mohamed, said: “It is unacceptable that the City of Yonkers would cling to a policy that degrades and humiliates Muslim women, and others, by forcing them to remove their head covering against their sincerely held religious beliefs. This policy is illegal. Ms. Malkawi should be applauded for her courage to step forward and fight this unjust policy that has caused her and many others unimaginable pain and suffering.”

“The Yonkers policy is out of step with the Constitution, federal law, and a growing consensus of national law departments that all respect people’s rights to wear religious head covering,” said ECBA attorney O. Andrew F. Wilson.

“There is no legitimate need for law enforcement to remove religious head coverings for mug shots or any other purpose,” said ECBA attorney Emma L. Freeman.  “In 2020, the state should not be coercing people in its custody to violate their religious beliefs.”

Ihsan Malkawi, a practicing Muslim-American woman, brings the case on behalf of herself and others impacted by the policy.  While in the YPD’s custody, Ms. Malkawi was forced to endure a full day and night without her hijab, and was paraded uncovered past numerous strangers—many men—throughout the YPD’s facilities and while in court for her arraignment.

According to the complaint, “Yonkers Police Department (YPD) officers instructed Ihsan Malkawi . . . to remove her hijab so they could photograph her. Ms. Malkawi pleaded with them not to remove it.  She explained that her hijab—a headscarf she wears daily to cover her hair and signify modesty and devotion to the Muslim faith—is not a fashion accessory, but an essential component of her religion. The officers did not listen.  They told Ms. Malkawi—falsely—that the law required her to remove her hijab.  Distraught by this coerced violation of her religious practice, yet fearful of the legal repercussions if she did not comply, Ms. Malkawi wept while she did as she was told.”

For more information, read coverage from The Huffington Post, NBC News, Lohud and The Union Journal. Read the CAIR-NY’s press release here.

Ms. Malkawi is represented by ECBA attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman.

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Paul Haggis Loses Appeal on Gender Motivated Violence Protection Law

The New York Appellate Division, First Department ruled on December 26, 2019 that rape and sexual assault are necessarily motivated at least in part by animus towards the victim’s gender, and therefore prohibited by the New York City Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law.

The case is Breest v. Haggis, one of the few cases of the MeToo era that is being litigated in civil court. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP represents Haleigh Breest, who alleges that Hollywood director Paul Haggis raped and assaulted her after a film premiere in 2013. The First Department affirmed the lower court’s decision denying Haggis’s motion to dismiss the case. In so doing, the Court rejected Haggis’s argument that, in order to plead a claim, the plaintiff had to allege that he had expressed hatred towards all women. In the first appellate ruling to ever address this important law, the Court made it clear that it did not agree with other lower court decisions that created “insuperable barriers” for sexual assault victims to plead their claims and seek justice.

The Court held that: “Rape and sexual assault are, by definition, actions taken against the victim without the victim’s consent. Without consent, sexual acts such as those alleged in the complaint are a violation of the victim’s bodily autonomy and an expression of the perpetrator’s contempt for that autonomy. Coerced sexual activity is dehumanizing and fear-inducing. Malice or ill will based on gender is apparent from the alleged commission of the act itself. Animus inheres where consent is absent.”

“This is a historic ruling that breathes new life into the New York City law against gender motivated violence,” said ECBA partner Zoe Salzman. “This decision paves the way for a jury to hold Paul Haggis accountable at trial.”

ECBA attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, Zoe Salzman, and Emma Freeman represent Haleigh Breest.

Read the First Department’s decision here.

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Settlement of Jazmine Headley’s Civil Rights Lawsuit: City of New York Will Pay $625,000

In December 2019, ECBA reached a $625,000 settlement in the case of Jazmine Headley, an ECBA client whose one-year-old son was forcibly yanked from her arms by the City of New York’s Human Resources Administration (“HRA”) employees, NYPD officers, and security guards working for FJC Security Services simply because Ms. Headley was sitting on the floor waiting for her benefits appointment.  The Defendants assaulted Ms. Headley, brandished a taser at her and her young son, charged her with several crimes, and detained her on Rikers Island for days.  In light of Ms. Headley’s and her son’s ordeal, the City Council has passed various bills designed to remedy the City’s systemic abuse of HRA clients.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill DeBlasio said: “Ms. Headley came to the city seeking help, and we failed to treat her with the dignity and respect she deserved. While this injustice should never have happened, it forced a reckoning with how we treat our most vulnerable.”

“Through her intelligence, bravery, and grace, Jazmine Headley turned the worst ordeal of her life—and of any parent’s—into an opportunity for change for the entire city,” said ECBA partner Katie Rosenfeld.  “By testifying at City Council in support of new laws based on her experience and by bringing a civil rights lawsuit, Ms. Headley has carried a heavy burden over the past year.  But from day one, Ms. Headley insisted that this incident was not just about her, but about the dignity of every young woman of color raising her family with immense love and hard work, in a difficult world.  We hope Ms. Hadley’s moral leadership inspires the City to make good on its promises of reform.”

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Emma Freeman.  The New York Times and AP coverage of the settlement can be found here and here.

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Federal Court of Appeals Reinstates Emoluments Clause Lawsuit Against Trump

On September 13, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated a landmark federal lawsuit in New York against Donald Trump, prompted by his violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution.  The Second Circuit’s decision means that Trump may be ordered to provide extensive discovery into his business dealings with foreign and state governments.  ECBA previously filed an amicus curiae brief in the District Court in support of the Plaintiff, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, on behalf of Sarah P. Chayes, an internationally-recognized expert in corruption and kleptocratic regimes.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, and the New York Law Journal, among others, have covered this recent development.  The Second Circuit’s decision is available here.

ECBA attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Emma L. Freeman represent Sarah Chayes.

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Jazmine Headley Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against The City Of New York

Today, ECBA client Jazmine Headley filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York and its Human Resources Administration (“HRA”) peace officers and New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) officers who attacked and arrested her at the DeKalb Job Center on December 7, 2018.  Simply because Ms. Headley was sitting on the floor waiting for her appointment, these officers brandished a taser in Ms. Headley’s face, forcibly yanked her one-year-old son from her arms, charged her with several crimes, and detained her on Rikers Island for days.  Her experience is just one example of HRA security staff’s widespread abuse of New Yorkers who seek assistance with their public benefits.

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Emma Freeman.  The Complaint is available here.  A press release about the filing is available here.

To learn more, read coverage from the New York Law Journal, Politico, the New York Post, and Patch.

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ECBA Wins DNA Motion in Sexual Assault Case

ECBA won a landmark ruling in Breest v. Haggis. ECBA represents a young woman named Haleigh Breest in a case alleging that she was raped and sexually assaulted by the director Paul Haggis. In a legal filing, Haggis swore under oath that he had not had intercourse with Breest. But he refused to give a sample of his DNA to compare to the sample left in Breest’s tights. Justice Robert R. Reed of the New York Supreme Court ruled that Haggis had to provide his DNA because, if it matched the DNA on the tights, it could help prove Breest’s claim of rape and rebut Haggis’s denial of intercourse. “This is an important decision by the court. We believe it is the first case of the #MeToo era to order disclosure of DNA evidence,” said Breest’s lawyer, Zoe Salzman.

The decision can be found here.

Read more about Justice Reed’s decision granting the DNA sample here and here.

ECBA attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, Zoe Salzman, and Emma Freeman represent the plaintiff Haleigh Breest.

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On Behalf of Dame Products, ECBA Sues MTA Over Discriminatory Censorship of Sex Toy Advertisements

As reported on CNN, ECBA filed suit against the MTA on June 18, 2019, alleging that it violated the First Amendment rights of Dame Products, a company that designs and manufactures innovative tools for women’s sexual pleasure and wellness.

Dame submitted proposed advertisements for its toys to the MTA in July 2018.  At first, the MTA approved certain advertisements and provided Dame with creative feedback over the course of six months.  Then, the MTA suddenly changed course and refused to display Dame’s advertisements on subways and other MTA property, even though the MTA already displays numerous ads for erectile dysfunction medication, condoms, and other products geared towards men.  The Complaint details how the MTA’s decision to ban Dame’s advertisement amounts to unconstitutional censorship and reflects the MTA’s sexist views of women’s sexual health.

Dame is represented by ECBA attorneys Richard Emery and Emma L. Freeman.  You can read the Complaint here.

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Inmate at Auburn Correctional Facility Sues Prison Personnel after Brutal Assault by Correctional Officer

ECBA filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Matthew Raymond, an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility, against the Superintendent of Auburn Correctional Facility, eight Auburn correctional officers, and two Auburn medical personnel.  ECBA’s Katie Rosenfeld and Emma L. Freeman represent Mr. Raymond.

The suit—filed in the Northern District of New York—charges that, on September 14, 2016, Mr. Raymond was viciously assaulted by Lieutenant Troy Mitchell, an employee of New York State’s Auburn Correctional Facility.  Mitchell—a notorious and violent abuser who has cost the State of New York nearly one million dollars in settlement payouts—took Mr. Raymond into a private room in Auburn’s medical unit.  With Mr. Raymond shackled and immobile, Mitchell cursed at Mr. Raymond and beat him about the head, neck, chest, and groin, using his fists and officers’ baton.  Throughout the attack, five other officers, including Sgt. Thomas Harte and Correction Officers Charles Thomas, Thomas Phillips, and Thomas Giancola, stood by and watched.

The assault left Mr. Raymond with severe and permanent injuries.  He will never be able to urinate on his own again and must be permanently catheterized.  He may not be able to father children.  He suffers from near constant kidney and urinary tract infections.  And he suffers from what appear to be neurological symptoms that impact his ability to walk.

As the suit details, in the aftermath of the assault and in retaliation for Mr. Raymond’s decision to file grievances against the officers involved, medical care personnel at Auburn ignored Mr. Raymond’s serious medical needs and neglected to provide him with remotely adequate care.  Only months after the beating was Mr. Raymond taken to an outside medical facility and given the care he required.

Although Mr. Raymond attempted to use Auburn’s internal grievance procedure to spur an investigation of the assault, Auburn personnel papered over the incident and, instead, levied false disciplinary charges against Mr. Raymond that led to weeks in solitary confinement.

“For decades, DOCCS employee Lt. Mitchell systematically abused prisoners in the New York State prisons,” said Katie Rosenfeld, a partner at ECBA.  “He also corrupted other officers to join this abuse.  DOCCS’ Office of Special Investigation repeatedly turned a blind eye to the truth.  OSI always credited Lt. Mitchell over the reports of prisoners.  DOCCS and OSI must stop covering it up when serial abusers in the ranks hurt people like our client Matt Raymond.  Brutal abuse is not part of the sentence that courts hand down to people in New York State.”

“This lawsuit seeks to remedy the vicious attack perpetrated by Troy Mitchell and his cohort against Matthew—and DOCCS’s long history of ignoring predators in its midst,” said Emma L. Freeman.  “It is long past time for state facilities to take meaningful responsibility for correctional officers tasked with caring for inmates.”

To learn more, read coverage from the NY Daily News here and coverage from the Times Union here.  The complaint can be found here.

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