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Family Brutalized by U.S. Marshals in Justice Sotomayor Houses Files Federal Lawsuit

New York, NY – This morning, a single mother of two children living in Justice Sotomayor Houses in the Bronx, along with her brother and nine-year old daughter, filed a civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against the United States and sixteen United States Marshals. Without any basis, the Complaint alleges, the marshals punched, kicked and beat her brother, forced him to sit on a hot radiator, threatened to kill him, terrorized her 4- and 9-year old children, invaded her apartment without a warrant, and threatened to take away her benefits, her apartment, her children, and her freedom.

As alleged in the Complaint, the marshals said: “We can do whatever we want, we’re the feds.” “We don’t need a warrant.” “I should kill you right now.” “You’re lucky I don’t pull out my gun and shoot you.” “There are 7 of us, 1 of you. Who’s the judge going to believe?” “We’re the federal government – we can do whatever the fuck we want.”

After this terror, the marshals never arrested anyone in the family, and never apologized. Elva Rosa, the lead plaintiff, is an active member of her school’s PTA, and a supermarket cashier.

“These marshals acted like some sort of lawless gang. It’s appalling,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. “Would this happen on Park Avenue?  Never. But in the Bronx, there is no justice even in the former residence of a Supreme Court Justice. This should never happen in America, anywhere.”

The marshals left the family fearful and traumatized. Even now, Ms. Rosa’s daughter prays the marshals won’t take her mom away, and her four-year old son pretends to hold a gun and says: “Marshal, put your fucking hands up!”

Ilann M. Maazel and David Lebowitz represent the family.  To read coverage in the N.Y. Daily News, click here. To read coverage in the New York Law Journal, click here.

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ECBA Attorneys Reach Historic Settlement to Reform Facebook’s Housing Advertising Platform

On March 18, 2019 ECBA attorneys announced a $2,450,000 settlement for clients the National Fair Housing Alliance (“NFHA”), the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”) to settle housing discrimination claims against Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”).  This agreement will implement far-reaching changes across Facebook’s advertising platform for housing, employment and credit (“HEC”) advertising.  In March, 2018 ECBA filed suit in federal district court alleging that Facebook had created pre-populated lists making it possible for housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) Facebook users from receiving rental, sales or financing ads because of their race, national origin, sex, disability or family status.

The Facebook settlement sets a new benchmark for assuring that targeted advertising on social media complies with civil rights laws.  Facebook will establish a separate advertising portal for creating HEC ads on Facebook and all Facebook-owned platforms, including Instagram and Messenger.  On this new portal, HEC advertisers will not be able to target Facebook users (1) based on gender, age or multi-cultural affinity; (2) by zip code as all HEC ads must have a minimum geographic radius of 15 miles from a specific address or from the center of a city; and (3) based on categories that describe or appear to relate to personal characteristics or classes protected under federal, state, and local fair housing laws, including, race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, family status, disability, and sexual orientation.

In addition, Facebook will create a new page which will allow consumers to view all housing ads placed on the Facebook platform irrespective of whether the consumer was part of the advertisers’ targeted audience.  NFHA will work with Facebook to develop an in-house fair housing training program for Facebook leadership and staff.  Facebook will provide ECBA’s clients with $500,000 of in-kind advertising to promote fair housing on Facebook.

Finally, Facebook will pay $1.9 million in damages and attorneys’ fees, including to provide future training for housing advertisers on how to use social media in a manner consistent with fair housing laws and to create programming to promote fair housing using social media.

The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman.

Click here to read NFHA’s press release.

Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Read more about ECBA’s work on this case in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

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Haggis Abandons Case against Haleigh Breest

Late yesterday, director Paul Haggis abandoned his lawsuit against Haleigh Breest. A lower court dismissed Haggis’ case on August 14, 2018, and Haggis quietly dropped his appeal yesterday.

Though the Haggis case against Ms. Breest is over, Ms. Breest’s sexual assault case against Mr. Haggis continues.

Read more about the case here, here, and here.

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ECBA Clients File Class Action to Challenge Conditions of Confinement at Brooklyn MDC

February 22, 2019 — Plaintiffs David Scott and Jeremy Cerda filed a class action lawsuit today against Warden Herman Quay in federal court. The case challenges the conditions of confinement at Brooklyn’s federal jail, Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”), during the humanitarian crisis that unfolded over the bitterly cold week of January 27, 2019 to February 3, 2019, after an electrical fire at the jail.

As widely reported and alleged in the complaint, during the crisis, people were left locked in their cells with almost no light or heat for a week. People were confined in near pitch-black darkness. People sat shivering in their beds, huddled under blankets with little or no heat in the cells. The suit also alleges that the lack of light and heat was compounded by an array of other of brutal conditions. People were confined to their cells continuously for days. Hot showers and hot water were suspended or severely limited. Cells with toilets that were not functioning were filled with the smell of decaying feces. People continued to live in their soiled clothing and bedsheets without any laundry. Requests for medical and psychiatric care were ignored. People had no access to regular or hot food. Communication with the outside world—whether by email, phone or visits from lawyers or family—ceased. People struggled to maintain their sanity in a void of information about when the blackout would end. And of course, jail employees were forced to work under these impossible circumstances. The lawsuit also claims that, in response to the crisis, MDC’s Warden, Defendant Herman Quay, engaged in a dereliction of his obligation to provide these most basic minimal living standards to more than a thousand people in his care and custody.  These problems were longstanding and foreseeable, and the Warden failed to assess the infrastructure problems that had long plagued the jail.

ECBA Attorneys Katherine R. Rosenfeld and O. Andrew F. Wilson represent Mr. Scott, Mr. Cerda and the putative class.  To read a copy of the complaint, click here. To read coverage of the crisis in the New York Times, click here.  To read the coverage in Gothamist, click here.

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Andrew G. Celli, Jr. Appointed to James Transition Committee

In early December 2018, New York State Attorney General-elect Letitia James appointed ECBA co-founding partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. to her Transition Committee and selected him to lead the Committee’s working group on civil rights enforcement. Celli, who served as Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Office of the Attorney General from 1999 until 2003, convened a group of 35 leading civil rights lawyers to generate ideas and comment on priorities for the new Attorney General. He presented the group’s findings to General James and the full Transition Committee at the Committee’s final meeting on January 23, 2019.

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ECBA Client Jazmine Headley Testifies At City Council Oversight Hearing

ECBA client Jazmine Headley gave powerful testimony to the New York City Council at a City Council hearing on February 4, 2019.  Ms. Headley spoke to lawmakers about her experiences in December 2018 when she was attacked, arrested, and forcibly separated from her one-year-old son, after sitting on the floor in an HRA office as she waited for her appointment.  Ms. Headley advocated for a number of reforms, including “social workers not security officers” and more on-site staff at HRA offices.  Ms. Headley told the Council, “We need to change the way HRA provide services to people when they are most in need.”  Members of the Council commended Ms. Headley for her important testimony, and called her treatment “painful and heartbreaking,” acknowledging that it reflected a “system-wide issue.”

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Michele Yankson

Watch Ms. Headley’s testimony here. Additional press coverage of Ms. Headley’s testimony can be found here, here and here

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City & State NY’s 50 Over 50 List Recognizes Jonathan S. Abady

Jonathan S. Abady has been selected by City & State NY as one of New York’s 50 Most Distinguished People Over 50. City & State NY’s power lists have been a long standing institution in New York. This year was the organization’s fourth annual 50 Over 50 list.  The issue honors top professionals from government relations, advocacy, academia, media, business and more.

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Columbia Sociologist Lauds ECBA In Sociological Forum

Sociologist Shamus Khan, Chair and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, praises the work of ECBA in a forthcoming article in Sociological Forum magazine.  The article, entitled “The Subpoena of Ethnographic Data,” describes the ethical and legal challenges faced when Prof. Khan, a renowned scholar of gender, sexuality, and cultural elites, received a document subpoena seeking the production of ethnographic data. The data in question was collected by Prof. Khan at St. Paul’s School, an elite prep school which Khan profiled in his ground-breaking book Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School.  The subpoena arose from a civil suit brought by a young woman who, as a student at St. Paul’s, alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by another student. The case gained national attention and the accused young man was found guilty of statutory rape. The subpoena sought, among other things, copies of Prof. Khan’s contemporaneous field notes of observations he had made of students, faculty and administrators while living on the campus of St. Paul’s in 2004-2005.  Describing ECBA as a “powerful law firm” and thanking ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. for “his counsel,” the article details the firm’s successful effort to force the withdrawal of the subpoena. The firm invoked case law that extends the First-Amendment-based “journalist’s privilege” to academic researchers like Prof. Khan.  In addition to Mr. Celli, firm associate David Lebowitz handled the matter for Prof. Khan. 

Click here to read Prof. Khan’s article in Sociological Forum.

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