TopVerdict has named the $10 million jury verdict against film director Paul Haggis one of the “Top 20 Verdicts in New York in 2022.” After a lengthy trial, Haggis was found civilly liable in November 2022 for raping film industry publicist Haleigh Breest in 2013. Haggis was ordered to pay $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages. Haggis subsequently sought to have the verdict overturned; his motion was denied.
On May 15, 2023, ECBAWM secured an important victory in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the City of Hoboken, New Jersey.
In September 2020, Hoboken sued ExxonMobil, several other big oil companies, and the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s largest lobby, to hold them accountable for more than a half-century of deception about climate change, which has led to devastating impacts on Hoboken. The oil company defendants recently filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to remove Hoboken’s case from New Jersey state court to federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition. The case will now proceed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hudson Vicinage.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision leaves in place an August 2022 decision in Hoboken’s favor by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which affirmed an earlier decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, denying the defendants’ attempt to remove the case to federal court.
Informed by decades of experience seeking justice for sexual assault survivors and most recently by a $10 million jury verdict in a high-profile case that was the first ever tried under the New York City Victims of Gender Motivated Violence Protection Act, ECBAWM partner Ilann Maazel’s latest New York Law Journal column aims to help other legal practitioners who take on similar cases.
In “How to Win a #MeToo Case,” Maazel advises colleagues on practical considerations as well as how to prepare their clients for the psychological and emotional factors that will inevitably come into play. “Coming forward to report sexual assault is exceedingly difficult,” Maazel writes in explaining the importance of steeling one’s client for the experience of litigation. “Litigation often involves expansive discovery into every aspect of the client’s life, physical and mental health, and sexual history. It may involve one or more examinations by forensic experts for both sides, a deposition, an appearance in front of a jury, and an unpleasant cross-examination. The client needs to understand the process and be ready for it. On the other hand, coming forward, standing up for oneself, and potentially holding a perpetrator accountable can be empowering and even life-affirming.”
Maazel also recommends plaintiffs’ counsel “expect the unexpected” so they are not intimidated or deterred by outrageous defense tactics and offers tactical advice to avoid ethical issues. Further, notes Maazel, attorneys should ensure they research all potential legal claims and statutes of limitations and retain a rape myths expert to refute harmful misinformation about the causes of rape and the ways in which survivors report and process having been raped. If possible, counsel should also seek to locate other survivors to offer both support and evidence of intent. “If you have multiple, credible survivors testifying against the defendant at trial, this will only help your case,” Maazel writes.
Additionally, Maazel offers guidance on the thorny role the press can play in a #MeToo case. On the one hand, “[n]ot many survivors want to be known for being a sexual assault survivor. Yet public attention to a case can lead other survivors to learn about the case and come forward, which can be extremely important evidence.”
On April 26, 2023, the New York Attorney General and the New York City Law Department intervened in a case brought by ECBAWM to help defend the constitutionality of the State’s and City’s Human Rights Laws prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s source of income. ECBAWM has brought multiple cases against Parkchester Apartments, a large Bronx apartment complex with 6,000 rental units, challenging its discriminatory policies and continuing refusal to rent apartments to applicants with housing vouchers. Last year, ECBAWM won a preliminary injunction in one such case, securing housing for a previously homeless woman and her two children who had been denied a Parkchester apartment even though she had a voucher to pay the full rent. Parkchester recently asked the Court to dismiss this case, challenging the constitutionality of the source-of-income laws. ECBAWM is proud to be working with the State and City to defeat this challenge and protect voucher holders from discriminatory policies like those employed by Parkchester.
ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk, Vivake Prasad, and Eric Abrams represent the plaintiffs in the complaints filed against Parkchester. Housing Works Senior Staff Attorney Armen H. Merjian is co-counsel in the case defending the constitutionality of the source of income laws.
On April 4, 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an important ruling in favor of firm client Michael Matzell, rejecting an attempt by New York State prison officials to claim qualified immunity from Mr. Matzell’s federal civil rights case.
Mr. Matzell filed the lawsuit in 2020 on behalf of himself and a class of individuals who were denied participation in the Shock Incarceration Program (“Shock”) while they were incarcerated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (“DOCCS”), even though their participation was court-ordered. Mr. Matzell’s sentence included Shock, pursuant to New York State’s Drug Law Reform Act of 2009 (“DLRA”), which gave sentencing judges the authority to order Shock participation.
The Second Circuit denied the DOCCS officials’ bid to dismiss Mr. Matzell’s lawsuit. It held that DOCCS officials “exceeded and abused their governmental authority by ignoring the Court’s sentencing order and the DLRA’s plain statutory language.” It also found that “Matzell plausibly alleged that Defendants’ actions rose to the level of deliberate indifference in violation of his substantive due process rights” and that “Matzell plausibly alleged that Defendants’ actions were egregious, shocking to the conscience, and unreasonable.”
By ignoring court orders, DOCCS officials acted outside the bounds of their legal authority. They also denied Mr. Matzell and others the benefits of Shock, including early release from prison, as well as substance abuse treatment, therapy, education, and other reintegration services. DOCCS caused Mr. Matzell to serve an additional 506 days in prison that he would not have had to serve if he had been rightfully enrolled in Shock.
While new pay transparency laws may help women and people of color negotiate for better salaries, said ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman, they’re unlikely to solve issues of salary inequity overnight. Salzman, an experienced employment discrimination and civil rights lawyer, was quoted in the recent Law360.com article “Will Pay Transparency Laws Make Salary Negotiations Fairer?” about the potential impact of pay transparency laws on hiring biases.
“I don’t think that that information alone is enough to combat all the difficulties women and women of color in particular face in negotiating for fair compensation,” said Salzman. “We know there are a ton of social and historical biases against women who negotiate aggressively. And those I don’t think are removed completely with pay transparency laws, but I think there’s no question it will help.”
Salzman also noted that how salary negotiations are conducted can reinforce biases and trigger unfair results. “A woman who has high standards is demanding; a man who has high standards is a good manager,” said Salzman. “A woman who aggressively negotiates is difficult; a man who aggressively negotiates is effective. Unfortunately, at least anecdotally, in my own practice, that’s still all too common.”
Jessica Clarke, formerly of counsel to ECBAWM, has been confirmed as a United States District Judge for the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York. While at ECBAWM, Clarke’s practice focused on affirmative civil rights litigation, including cases involving disability rights and illegal wiretapping, as well as commercial litigation and post-conviction cases. Since leaving the firm, Clarke served as the Civil Rights Bureau Chief for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where she oversaw the Bureau’s enforcement of federal, state, and local civil rights laws. Judge Clarke is the third ECBAWM alum to join the federal bench, after EDNY Judge Nina R. Morrison and SDNY Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn.
“Judge Clarke will be a great asset to the federal bench,” said Ilann M. Maazel, partner at ECBAWM. “We know she will bring judgment, brilliance, and humanity to every case before her.”
On March 8, the U.S. Department of Justice released a damning report detailing routine constitutional violations by the Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”). Along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU of Kentucky, ECBAWM sued Louisville in 2020, alleging that LMPD’s indiscriminate use of tear gas and other military-grade weapons against peaceful protesters violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. The class-action lawsuit, brought by several named plaintiffs who were subjected to unnecessary force, seeks to bar LMPD from using such weapons at future protests.
Among many other areas of misconduct, DOJ investigated LMPD’s response to the summer 2020 protests following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. The report found that LMPD had “indiscriminately used force” against peaceful and law-abiding protesters, and used “riot sticks, less-lethal munitions, [and] chemical agents against protesters who did no more than passively resist or disperse more slowly than officers desired.”
The DOJ report also confirms another of the primary claims in the ECBAWM lawsuit against LMPD: “By using force against peaceful protesters without individualized and adequate justifications, LMPD repeatedly retaliated against speech, in violation of the First Amendment.” Attorney General Merrick Garland described some of LMPD’s conduct as “unacceptable” and “heartbreaking.”
“We applaud the Justice Department’s extensive investigation into the LMPD,” said ECBAWM Partner, Sam Shapiro. “Louisville must commit to stop using indiscriminate, crowd-control weaponry that subjects peaceful protestors to unconstitutional uses of force.”