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Court Certifies Class in ECBAWM, STOP Religious Headcovering Lawsuit

On February 16, 2020, federal judge Analisa Torres of the United States District Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification on behalf of all New Yorkers forced to remove their religious head coverings for photographs while in NYPD custody. ECBAWM filed the case for the Plaintiffs, together with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (“STOP”). The decision means that Plaintiffs’ case for damages will proceed as a class action and that, if found liable, the City must pay damages to each and every individual whose religious rights were violated under the NYPD policy.

“Every New Yorker whose religious head covering was forcibly removed by the NYPD in violation of their religious rights should be entitled to compensation. This decision gives us a mechanism to make that happen,” said O. Andrew F. Wilson, a partner at ECBAWM.

This ruling followed Judge Torres’s September 30, 2020 rejection of the City of New York’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims under the Federal Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), both of which protect the rights of all New Yorkers to express their beliefs through religious clothing.

Judge Torres wrote: “The Policy compels all individuals to remove religious headwear when sitting for a booking photograph…As a result, every member of the class will have the same claim because each member objects, due to their sincerely-held religious beliefs, to some or all of the activity the policy compels.”

Emma L. Freeman, an attorney at ECBAWM, said: “The Court’s ruling confirms that all New Yorkers—no matter what their religious practices—deserve compensation for being forced to take an uncovered mug shot.”

“This lawsuit already blocked the NYPD from removing New Yorkers’ head coverings in the future, but today’s decision brings us one step closer to justice for New Yorkers who were harmed in the past,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Far too many New Yorkers have already been targeted, humiliated, and stripped for their religious head coverings. These New Yorkers deserve justice for what they’ve suffered, and it’s long past time for the City to pay.”

Plaintiffs’ class action Complaint is available here. The Court’s Decision and Order certifying the class is available here.

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Emma L. Freeman, as well as S.T.O.P.’s Albert Fox Cahn.

If you or anyone you know has been forced to remove a religious head covering while in NYPD custody, please contact ECBAWM through its website.

Article

ECBAWM Obtains Settlement Forcing NYPD to End Discriminatory “Hijab Removal” Policy

The NYPD has agreed to end its discriminatory “hijab removal” policy, which forced suspects to remove hijabs and other religious attire for mug shots. Pursuant to a partial settlement obtained by ECBAWM and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), the NYPD will have only limited law enforcement exceptions to remove religious head coverings.

“The policy changes we have obtained are a blueprint for the nation’s police departments,” said ECBAWM partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “Law enforcement interests can be served without violating religious freedom. This settlement protects both.”

“This settlement reflects New York City’s renewed commitment to the free exercise rights of all its residents,” said ECBAWM attorney Emma Freeman. “As the NYPD’s new policies recognize, there is no need to strip away religious head coverings at the precinct door.”

ECBAWM and S.T.O.P. will continue to seek damages from the NYPD for individuals who were previously forced to remove their religious head coverings as part of the intake process.

Mr. Wilson and Ms. Freeman are joined by ECBAWM partner Matthew D. Brinckerhoff in representing the plaintiffs.

ECBAWM has filed a similar lawsuit against the Yonkers Police Department for forcing individuals to remove religious head coverings for mug shots and while in custody. That case is also pending.

Related Press
“N.Y.P.D. Will No Longer Force Women to Remove Hijabs for Mug Shots,” New York Times (11.13.20)
“NYPD will now allow people to wear religious head coverings in booking photos,” CNN (11.11.20)
“NYPD Will Allow Defendants To Keep Religious Headgear On For Mug Shots,” Gothamist (11.10.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (11.10.20)
“NYPD can no longer force Muslim women to remove hijabs in mug shots, settlement says,” USA Today (11.10.20)
“NYPD will now allow religious people to wear head coverings in booking photos,” KCTV5 (11.10.20)
“New York police to stop forcing Muslim women to remove hijab during arrest,” Middle East Eye (11.10.20)
“NYC settles lawsuit over forced removal of head coverings when religiously observant person is under arrest,” New York Daily News (11.9.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” ABC News (11.9.20)
“NYPD Will Allow Those Arrested to Wear Religious Headware for Mug Shots,” 4New York NBC News (11.9.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” Associated Press (11.9.20)

Article

Federal Court Rejects Motion to Dismiss ECBAWM’s Religious Head Covering Class Action Against the City of New York

On September 30, 2020, federal judge Analisa Torres denied a motion to dismiss brought by the City of New York against a class-action lawsuit filed by ECBAWM and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, New York on behalf of all New Yorkers forced to remove their religious head coverings for mug shots while in NYPD custody. The Court upheld Plaintiffs’ claims under the Federal Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), both of which protect the rights of all New Yorkers to express their beliefs through religious clothing. The Court’s decision means that ECBAWM and CAIR-NY will continue to press forward with their efforts to end the NYPD’s practice of forcing arrestees to undress for mug shots and vindicate the rights of all who have been subjected to this harmful policy.

“This decision allows all New Yorkers to pursue their claims against the NYPD for gratuitously stripping them of their religious clothing,” said O. Andrew F. Wilson, a partner at ECBAWM.

“The Court’s decision recognizes that the U.S. Constitution and federal law both protect the right of every New Yorker to wear their chosen religious headgear—even while in police custody,” said ECBAWM attorney Emma Freeman. “This is a significant victory for people of all faiths.”

ECBAWM’s O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman represent the plaintiffs.

Article

The Journal News Features ECBAWM’s Mamaroneck Race Discrimination Lawsuit 

On June 11, 2020, Sophie Grosserode of the Westchester/Rockland Journal News featured ECBAWM’s lawsuit on behalf of a Mamaroneck family against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, which alleges that the School District failed to address years of egregious student-on-student racial harassment. The article highlights prior allegations that Mamaroneck tolerated racism in its schools and emphasizes that numerous families have since reached out to the firm to recount their own experiences of abuse and harassment.

Plaintiffs A.A., B.A., and C.A. are represented by ECBAWM attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma L Freeman.

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

Paul Haggis Loses Appeal on Gender Motivated Violence Protection Law

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 Ward & Maazel 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 ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman. “This decision paves the way for a jury to hold Paul Haggis accountable at trial.”

ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, Zoe Salzman, and Emma Freeman represent Haleigh Breest.

Article

Settlement of Jazmine Headley’s Civil Rights Lawsuit: City of New York Will Pay $625,000

In December 2019, ECBAWM reached a $625,000 settlement in the case of Jazmine Headley, an ECBAWM client whose one-year-old son was forcibly yanked from her arms by the City of New York’s Human Resources Administration (“HRA”) employees, NYPD officers, and security guards working for FJC Security Services simply because Ms. Headley was sitting on the floor waiting for her benefits appointment. The Defendants assaulted Ms. Headley, brandished a taser at her and her young son, charged her with several crimes, and detained her on Rikers Island for days. In light of Ms. Headley’s and her son’s ordeal, the City Council has passed various bills designed to remedy the City’s systemic abuse of HRA clients.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill DeBlasio said: “Ms. Headley came to the city seeking help, and we failed to treat her with the dignity and respect she deserved. While this injustice should never have happened, it forced a reckoning with how we treat our most vulnerable.”

“Through her intelligence, bravery, and grace, Jazmine Headley turned the worst ordeal of her life—and of any parent’s—into an opportunity for change for the entire city,” said ECBAWM partner Katie Rosenfeld. “By testifying at City Council in support of new laws based on her experience and by bringing a civil rights lawsuit, Ms. Headley has carried a heavy burden over the past year. But from day one, Ms. Headley insisted that this incident was not just about her, but about the dignity of every young woman of color raising her family with immense love and hard work, in a difficult world. We hope Ms. Hadley’s moral leadership inspires the City to make good on its promises of reform.”

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Emma Freeman.

“$625,000 Settlement for Woman Whose Child Was Torn From Her Arms,” New York Times
“NYC paying $625K to mom whose baby was ripped away by police,” AP

Article

Federal Court of Appeals Reinstates Emoluments Clause Lawsuit Against Trump

On September 13, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated a landmark federal lawsuit in New York against Donald Trump, prompted by his violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution. The Second Circuit’s decision means that Trump may be ordered to provide extensive discovery into his business dealings with foreign and state governments. ECBAWM previously filed an amicus curiae brief in the District Court in support of the Plaintiff, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, on behalf of Sarah P. Chayes, an internationally-recognized expert in corruption and kleptocratic regimes.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, and the New York Law Journal, among others, have covered this recent development.

ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Emma L. Freeman represent Sarah Chayes.

Article

Jazmine Headley Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against the City of New York

Today, ECBAWM client Jazmine Headley filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York and its Human Resources Administration (“HRA”) peace officers and New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) officers who attacked and arrested her at the DeKalb Job Center on December 7, 2018. Simply because Ms. Headley was sitting on the floor waiting for her appointment, these officers brandished a taser in Ms. Headley’s face, forcibly yanked her one-year-old son from her arms, charged her with several crimes, and detained her on Rikers Island for days.  Her experience is just one example of HRA security staff’s widespread abuse of New Yorkers who seek assistance with their public benefits.

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Emma Freeman.

Press Release
“Woman Whose Child Was Taken in Viral Arrest Video Sues New York City, NYPD,” New York Law Journal
“Jazmine Headley sues city over violent arrest at Brooklyn benefits office,” Politico
“Mom whose baby was ripped from her arms at benefits center sues city,” New York Post
“Mom Whose Baby Was Snatched In Social Services Office Sues City,” Patch

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