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

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 Ward & Maazel 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 ECBAWM attorney Emma L. Freeman.

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

A.A. and B.A. are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew Wilson and Emma L. Freeman.

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New York Court Strikes Down Unlawful Airbnb Tickets

On May 8, 2020, a New York state court ruled that ECBAWM client Stanley “Skip” Karol may rent out a portion of his Brooklyn home through Airbnb. The court directed the City to return the thousands of dollars in fines it had levied against Mr. Karol and to “[l]eave the poor guy alone.” The City had ticketed Mr. Karol for renting out his basement through Airbnb. ECBAWM attorneys filed a case challenging the legality of those tickets, and the Court ruled in Mr. Karol’s favor.

Reporting on the decision appears in the New York Daily News and in Politico.

Mr. Karol is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Debra L. Greenberger, and Andrew K. Jondahl.

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ECBAWM Client Files Religious Head Covering Class Action Against Yonkers

Together with the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP (ECBAWM) 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 ECBAWM 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 ECBAWM 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 ECBAWM 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.”

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

For more information, read coverage from The Huffington Post, NBC News, and Lohud.

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Statement of Counsel for the Former Bloomberg Staffers Who Filed a Nationwide Class-Action Lawsuit Today Against Mike Bloomberg 2020

“Today our clients, three former field organizers for Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign who worked in Georgia, Utah, and Washington state, filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the campaign broke its promise to provide its field staffers the opportunity to work on the general election campaign for Mike Bloomberg 2020. The complaint speaks for itself. Although our clients would like to speak publicly about their experiences, they are potentially subject to a confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with Mike Bloomberg 2020. We respectfully request that the Bloomberg campaign release our clients and the other field staffers from that agreement, even though it may not be enforceable.”

The field staffers who filed the suit, Alexis Sklair, Nathaniel Brown, and Sterling Rettke, are represented by Peter Romer-Friedman of Gupta Wessler PLLC, and Ilann M. Maazel and David Berman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP.

To learn more, visit our class action website here.

Read coverage by The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Axios.

Contacts:

Peter Romer-Friedman, Principal, Gupta Wessler PLLC
peter@guptawessler.com

Ilann M. Maazel, Partner, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP
imaazel@ecbawm.com

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ECBAWM Attorneys Reach Settlement in Midwood, Brooklyn Housing Discrimination Case

On behalf of their clients Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and five African American testers, ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Scout Katovich negotiated a $300,000 settlement of a race and religion housing discrimination case. The federal lawsuit alleged that Defendants ZP Realty Capital, Zev Pollak, and others were discriminating when renting apartments at a building located in the predominantly white Midwood neighborhood. The plaintiffs alleged that none of them were shown apartments even though Defendants showed white testers vacant apartments. They also alleged that Mr. Pollak referred to the apartments as being in a “Jewish building.” The settlement requires the defendants to institute fair housing practices, including to publicly advertise when apartments are available to rent.

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Sam Shapiro Co-Authors ACLU Amicus Brief

On March 4, 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in Trump v. Vance, arguing that the President should comply with a subpoena that was issued by a New York grand jury seeking the President’s personal records from his accountant. Sam Shapiro of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP co-authored the brief.

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Federal Court Permits Prison Death Case to Go Forward

A judge in the Western District of Oklahoma rejected a motion to dismiss filed by state prison officials seeking to end a lawsuit by the family of a 21-year-old young man who died in prison from untreated appendicitis. The court held that Joshua England’s family could continue its claim that prison officials violated Joshua’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by ignoring his repeated, anguished pleas for medical help over the course of days before he died alone on the floor of his prison cell. The court also permitted all of the state law claims to go forward. And the court refused to dismiss the senior official defendants – the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the warden of the prison – from the case. Now Joshua’s family can move forward with seeking accountability for Joshua’s untimely, entirely preventable death of a common and treatable illness.

ECBAWM attorneys Katherine Rosenfeld and Ali Frick represent Joshua’s family, along with co-counsel Paul DeMuro and Henry A. “Hank” Meyer, III.

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Maazel on The Weekly

The New York Times TV series The Weekly is featuring the “Bronx Zoo” disability abuse case, ECBAWM client L.K., and ECBAWM partner Ilann Maazel. The case recently settled for $6 million and injunctive relief. More about the case can be found in the New York Times here and hereThe Weekly episode can be found on the New York Times website and streaming on Hulu.

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ECBAWM Files Federal Civil Rights Suit Against Prison Officials for Abusive Conditions Leading to a 22-Year-Old Man’s Suicide

On February 24, 2020, ECBAWM filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Darlene McDay and Temple McDay, the mother and grandmother of Dante Taylor, a 22-year-old man who committed suicide in Wende Correctional Facility on October 7, 2017. As detailed in the complaint, Mr. Taylor—who had a history of depression and suicide attempts—was confined in isolation for long stretches at Wende, and providers and staff ignored many glaring risk factors for his suicide in the months leading up to his death. Mr. Taylor was brutally beaten by Wende correction officers the night before he died, thrown into isolation, and denied access to a mental health care provider. Mr. Taylor’s is one of many suicides that have occurred in recent years at Wende and other facilities run by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“Dante Taylor’s death at age 22 was foreseeable and preventable,” said Katie Rosenfeld, one of Mr. Taylor’s lawyers. “Dante’s family calls for an open and full investigation into the circumstances of his death, and seeks accountability for the vicious, extra-legal beating by the rogue correction officers that triggered his death.”

“We hope this lawsuit promotes public awareness of DOCCS’ failure to improve medical and mental health care for people in prison, even in the face of an epidemic of suicides by people confined in our state’s prisons, particularly people who are in solitary confinement conditions,” said Marissa Benavides, an ECBAWM associate working on the case.

ECBAWM’s Katie Rosenfeld and Marissa Benavides represent the McDay family in the suit.

“Prison guards brutally beat an inmate, his family says. Hours later, he killed himself,” Washington Post
“Family Sues Over Suicide of Inmate Behind Bars for Murder,” US News

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Family of Young Disabled Man Who Died in New York State Group Home Brings Federal Civil Rights Suit

This morning, the family of C.B., a young man with cognitive disabilities who passed away in April 2018, filed a civil rights lawsuit against employees of a group home run by New York’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (“OPWDD”). C.B. was found dead in his room at the Valley Ridge Center for Intensive Treatment on the morning of April 9, 2018, after Ashley Sessions, a Valley Ridge employee, failed to check in on him during the night as required.

C.B. died from a pulmonary embolism and heart failure. The day before his death, C.B. and his mother told State employees he couldn’t breathe. The State ignored him. C.B.’s arms and legs were massively swollen with fluid; he gained 50 pounds in a single year; he exhibited the telltale signs of heart failure. But Staff not only did nothing to help him; they repeatedly encouraged him to drink more fluids, contributing to his death.

Even as Sessions failed to check on C.B. as required during the night of his death, C.B. asphyxiated on fluids in his lungs. Sessions then lied to the police to try to cover up her misconduct. She ultimately pled guilty to the crime of filing false statements.

C.B.’s mother, J.M., filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Valley Ridge employees were deliberately indifferent to C.B.’s health and welfare and that the little medical care they did provide was woefully deficient.

“C.B.’s tragic death should never have happened,” C.B.’s family’s attorney, Ilann M. Maazel, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel, said. “State employees ignored the obvious signs that a disabled man’s health was rapidly deteriorating, then left him alone to die a horrible death in his bedroom. It’s unconscionable.”

“C.B.’s dire condition was plain to see,” added Samuel Shapiro, another attorney representing the family, “but the staff here just didn’t care enough to look.”

ECBAWM’s Ilann M. Maazel, Samuel Shapiro, and Ali Frick represent C.B.’s family.

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