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 filed a case in the Eastern District of Michigan today against Detroit Police Department officers whose misconduct resulted in the wrongful conviction of Kendrick Scott, an innocent man. Detroit Police Department officers framed Mr. Scott for murder by beating up an illiterate, intoxicated sixteen-year-old boy until he falsely inculpated Mr. Scott and threatening another teenager with a history of mental illness to do the same. They concealed evidence that pointed to the victim’s husband as the likely true culprit. They threw Mr. Scott in jail, then they threw away the key.
After nearly 20 years of proclaiming his innocence and fighting to be exonerated, Mr. Scott was finally released in November 2018. Through this case, Mr. Scott hopes to vindicate his civil rights, shine the light on police abuse, and bring an end to a decades-long injustice.
“No amount of money can properly compensate Mr. Scott for the loss of twenty years of his life,” said ECBA partner Zoe Salzman.
“Mr. Scott’s story is tragic for its familiarity: a young black man, framed by police through a pattern of egregious misconduct, lost nearly two decades of his life for no reason,” said ECBA attorney Ashok Chandran.
Read more about the complaint and press coverage of the case here.
ECBA Partner Zoe Salzman was quoted in a Law360 article discussing the impact of a new case holding that New York’s CPLR 7515 does not prohibit arbitration of sexual harassment claims. “It’s just a fact when there’s an arbitration clause in an employment discrimination dispute, the company gets to keep that dispute out of the public eye,” Salzman said. “This may be the only decision analyzing 7515, but it’s not the only decision that reads arbitration clauses very broadly in a very pro-employer way, and in a way that greatly undermines the ability of employees to vindicate their rights and to protect other employees from future discrimination.” But Salzman noted that legal arguments can still be made in support of the statute and that public sentiment is moving away from the use of arbitration pacts. “I think there is a shift going on right now and the state legislatures are saying very strongly what I think the people of the state are saying very strongly — which is that they think those agreements are unconscionable and against public policy and they don’t want to see them,” Salzman said.
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.
Zoe Salzman, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP who specializes in sexual harassment and employment discrimination, was recently interviewed by Super Lawyers magazine.
The article gives tips for what to do if you feel you have been harassed or discriminated against at work. Ms. Salzman said: “Calling a lawyer as soon as it happened is going to give you the best understanding of whether you were wronged and, if you were, what your options are.”
Ms. Salzman was named as a Super Lawyers Rising Star in 2018.
ECBA clients, two trusts named Accent Delight International Ltd. and Xitrans Finance Ltd., filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York against Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest and most famous auction houses. The Complaint alleges that Sotheby’s helped Yves Bouvier facilitate the largest art fraud in history. As detailed in the New Yorker, Bouvier is alleged to have defrauded the two plaintiff trusts of approximately $1 billion. The new suit alleges that Sotheby’s played a key role in aiding Mr. Bouvier’s scheme by providing valuations and other support for fraudulent transactions. ECBA attorneys Daniel J. Kornstein, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Zoe Salzman, and Doug Lieb represent the plaintiffs. Articles describing the filing can be found here and here.
ECBA partner Zoe Salzman was named as one of City & State’s 2018 40 Under 40 Rising Stars.
Each year, City & State identifies 40 members of the next generation – all under the age of 40 – who are already leaders in elected office and in state offices, in labor and in business, in advocacy and in academia, in government affairs and in journalism.
Ms. Salzman told City & State, saying the “diverse docket” she has at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady “is ideal for her skill set.” “‘It keeps you sharp,’ she says. ‘It’s thinking really creatively about legal problems.”