ECBAWM and Legal Aid File Class Action on Behalf of Painters for the Rich and Famous Who Were Not Paid Overtime

ECBAWM, along with The Legal Aid Society, filed a class-action lawsuit today in the Southern District of New York against two high-end decorative painting companies. The suit alleges that the companies failed to pay their painters hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime and stole thousands more in illegal “deductions” from the workers’ pay. The two companies—Atelier Mériguet-Carrère and Atelier Premiere, Inc. (also known as Premiere Painting)—are two companies that regularly work on the properties of the rich and famous including the homes of celebrities like Naomi Campbell and Valentino Garavani and foreign royalty like the Emir of Qatar—and even the French presidential palace.

Despite these companies’ great success in the realm of high-end painting, they have not shared the wealth with their employees. Instead, they have capitalized on their workers’ position of economic vulnerability to increase their own profits by denying their employees fundamental protections guaranteed by state and federal law. The lawsuit alleges that the named Plaintiffs and their fellow painters were illegally classified as independent contractors, even though any reasonable observer would conclude that they were employees of the companies. The painters’ work was closely supervised by the Defendants, who told them where to work, when to show up, what equipment and techniques to use, what to wear at work, how to behave at job sites, and even what time to break for lunch.

The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys David Lebowitz and Elizabeth S. Saylor, along with The Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Project.


ECBAWM Represents New York City Council in Stop & Frisk Civil Remedy and Affordable Housing Disclosure Cases

ECBAWM has been selected to represent the New York City Council in two cases where Mayor Bloomberg has challenged the legality of duly-enacted local legislation.

In Mayor v. City Council, #451543/2013, the firm is defending the constitutionality of the Community Safety Act (Local Law 71), which creates a civil remedy for persons subjected to bias-based policing. The Act, which allows private suits against the New York Police Department for injunctive relief, was enacted in the wake of a federal court finding that the NYPD’s “stop & frisk” activities violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the legislation, but the City Council voted to override the Mayor’s veto. In the lawsuit, the Mayor alleges that the Act is preempted by state Criminal Procedure Law. Unions representing NYPD sergeants and line officers have joined the suit against the City Council. ECBAWM lawyers Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Elizabeth Saylor, and Vasudha Talla are handling the case.

Separately, in New York State Association for Affordable Housing et al. v. City Council, # 158093/2013, a trade organization of real estate developers has sued to invalidate Local Law 44, an amendment to the City’s Administrative Code that requires developers to report the wages of workers employed on City-financed housing construction projects. The Bloomberg Administration, joining with the plaintiff trade group, alleges that the law is preempted by state minimum wage and housing finance statutes. ECBAWM lawyers Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Elizabeth Saylor, and Debra Greenberger are handling the case.



Anti-Semitic Bullying Case in Pine Bush Featured in The New York Times

This morning, the New York Times front page featured T.E. v. Pine Bush Central School District, a civil rights lawsuit brought by five Jewish students arising from years of pervasive anti-Semitic harassment and bullying in Pine Bush schools. The bullying included anti-Semitic slurs, Holocaust jokes, physical assaults, coin throwing, white power chants, Hitler salutes, and anti-Semitic graffiti on textbooks, lockers, walls, desks, and a classroom poster of President Obama. The Plaintiffs are represented by Ilann M. Maazel, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Zoe Salzman of ECBAWM, as well as Public Justice, P.C., and Michael Meth, Esq.


Taxi and Limousine Commission’s (TLC) E-Hail Pilot Program Can Go Forward

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, has unanimously affirmed the State Supreme Court’s ruling that the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s (TLC) E-Hail Pilot program can go forward. The Appellate Division found that the Pilot Program, which tests out the use of E-Hail Apps in the NYC’s yellow taxicabs, is a valid exercise of the TLC’s authority and complies with all applicable laws. Owners and operators of the City’s taxicab fleets, represented by Richard D. Emery, Elizabeth S. Saylor, and Jennifer Keighley of ECBAWM, intervened in the case on behalf of the TLC.

“Court OKs NYC’s test of ‘e-hailing’ taxis,” New York Post
“Taxi hailing app given green light by state appeals court,” New York Daily News


ECBAWM Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court on Behalf of Former HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and Others in Fair Housing Case

ECBAWM represented former HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and ten other former HUD officials to file in an amicus curiae brief in the United States Supreme Court in Township of Mount Holly, et al. v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al. The brief discusses HUD’s discriminatory effects regulation and long-standing consistent application of a disparate impact theory of liability in administering and enforcing the Fair Housing Act. The brief argues that the Court should defer to HUD’s reasonable interpretation of the FHA. ECBAWM’s Diane L. Houk and Vasudha Talla authored the brief.


ECBAWM Files a Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Harry Belafonte, Human Rights Activist and Music Legend

ECBAWM filed a federal lawsuit in New York last week on behalf of Harry Belafonte, human rights activist and music legend. In his lawsuit, Mr. Belafonte seeks the return of three historic documents given to him by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Mr. Belafonte and Dr. King worked closely together throughout the civil rights movement and forged a deep and enduring personal friendship. The three documents given to Mr. Belafonte are an outline for Dr. King’s now-famous “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam” speech, Dr. King’s notes from another, undelivered speech to be given in Memphis, Tennessee that were found in Dr. King’s suit pocket after he was assassinated in 1968, and a condolence letter sent by President Lyndon Johnson to Mrs. King after Dr. King’s assassination.

The documents have been in the possession of Sotheby’s auction house in New York since 2008, when the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr, Inc. and Bernice King, on behalf of the estate of Coretta Scott King, asserted that Mr. Belafonte obtained the documents from a wrongfully acquired collection. No shred of evidence has been offered to support this claim.

Mr. Belafonte seeks to put an end to the current situation in which the Estate and Bernice King have prevented him from recovering the documents. Mr. Belafonte is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Andrew G. Celli, Jr., and Vasudha Talla, and Prof. Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

“Belafonte Sues Heirs of Martin Luther King Jr.,” New York Times


Three Individuals Are Exonerated After Spending 18 Years Imprisoned

Michael Cosme, Devon Ayers, and Carlos Perez were exonerated today after spending 18 years imprisoned following convictions in 1997. The convictions stemmed from two murders – of Baithe Diop, a Senegalese livery cab driver, and of Denise Raymond, a Federal Express executive – that the government argued was perpetrated by Mr. Cosme, Mr. Ayers, and Mr. Perez. The convictions for the Diop homicide were vacated last December after two former gang members confessed to the killing. Because Mr. Cosme, Mr. Ayers, and Mr. Perez were tried simultaneously for both the Raymond and the Diop homicides, on the theory that the murders were part of a single conspiracy, once the Diop homicide convictions were vacated, the government conceded in January of this year that spillover prejudice required vacatur of the Raymond homicide convictions as well. ECBAWM also argued that the Raymond homicide convictions should be vacated because Mr. Cosme, Mr. Ayers, and Mr. Perez are actually innocent because the government violated their constitutional rights by suppressing materially exculpatory evidence. While the three were released from jail in January, the indictments were not dismissed until today. Over the last nine months, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office re-investigated the cases and conducted DNA testing on the physical evidence. The District Attorney’s Office received the final results of that DNA testing today and agreed to dismiss the indictments. Mr. Cosme is represented by ECBAWM’s Earl S. Ward, Elizabeth S. Saylor, and Eisha Jain, along with co-counsel Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan.


Sanctions Ordered Against City of New York Defendants for Destroying Surveillance Footage of City Jail

Southern District of New York Judge Robert P. Patterson ordered sanctions against several New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) officials, corrections officers, and the City for the destruction of surveillance video depicting a violent attack on ECBAWM’s client, Dwaine Taylor, while he was in a holding cell at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse. Defendants destroyed all but eight minutes of video on either end of the incident, which started with the attack on Mr. Taylor and ended three hours later with Mr. Taylor still in the pen with his attacker. Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions for the destruction of evidence argued that Defendants had a duty to preserve the video footage at the time they became aware of the assault and their failure to do so warranted sanctions: an adverse inference that the jury can presume Plaintiff’s version of the facts relating to what happened during the three hours is true, preclusion of testimony about what the video footage depicted, and attorneys’ fees. Judge Patterson agreed and ordered all of the requested relief against defendants.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Taylor alleged that the DOC and correction officers at City jails allow members of the Bloods to maintain order among inmates in the jail through violence and threats of violence. Mr. Taylor alleged that Defendants had a duty to protect him, and failed to do so in part by putting him in the pen with his attacker and allowing him to remain there, bleeding and with a fractured jaw. The attack at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse was one of two Mr. Taylor suffered at the hands of other inmates as a result of Defendants’ alleged indifference.

Mr. Taylor is represented by ECBA’s Katherine Rosenfeld, Zoe Salzman, Jill Maxwell, and Jonathan S. Abady, and The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project.