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ECBAWM and CAIR-NY Obtain Settlement Ending Yonkers Police Department’s Discriminatory “Hijab Removal” Practice

The Yonkers Police Department has agreed to end its discriminatory practice of forcing suspects to remove hijabs and other religious attire while in custody. Pursuant to a settlement obtained by ECBAWM and the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), the YPD will be permitted to remove religious head coverings (including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes, and more) only in very limited circumstances. The YPD has further agreed to train its employees about the new policy and report to ECBAWM and CAIR-NY annually for three years to ensure proper compliance.

“The policy changes laid out by this decision provide a comprehensive roadmap for other cities to follow in remedying this egregious violation of civil rights,“ said ECBAWM partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “Following the settlement obtained last year against the NYPD, we are optimistic that these cases will offer a precedent to spur other cities and police departments nationwide to address this ongoing issue in a meaningful way.”

“The amount of damages awarded in our settlement further reflect how seriously the City of Yonkers has taken this event and the incursion into the religious rights of our client,” added Emma Freeman, an ECBAWM attorney who also represents the plaintiff.

The settlement also requires the City of Yonkers to pay $175,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

The plaintiff is represented by ECBAWM attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman. For additional information, please see today’s press release.

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ECBAWM Secures Landmark Settlement Between Voting Rights Advocates and Private Security Company Charged with Voter Intimidation

A federal judge has approved a sweeping settlement in a lawsuit brought by voting rights advocates against a private security contractor, Atlas Aegis, for illegal voter intimidation in Minnesota. ECBAWM’s clients, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota (LWV-MN), celebrated the settlement as a major victory for democracy.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy E. Brasel approved a consent decree that resolves all remaining claims in the lawsuit. Under the consent decree, which lasts until January 1, 2025, Atlas Aegis and its Chairman and co-founder Anthony Caudle are:

  • Prohibited from deploying armed agents within 250 feet of (or otherwise monitoring) any early voting location during early voting, a polling place on election day, places where ballots are being counted, recounted, or canvassed; or where county canvassing boards or the State Canvassing Board are meeting to canvass, inspect, or declare the results of that election; or where Minnesota’s presidential electors are meeting to vote in the presidential general election.
  • Prohibited from otherwise taking any action to intimidate, threaten, or coerce voters, people aiding voters, or people engaged in tabulating, counting, or reporting votes.
  • Required to notify CAIR-MN and LWV-MN in writing 25 days before any federal election if they are supplying security personnel for any non-election-related protective services (e.g., providing security for an art exhibition or concert) where armed security personnel may be visible to the public within 250 feet of a polling place on election day.

Any violations of the consent decree will be enforceable as contempt of court.

The consent decree approved by the federal court requires the plaintiffs to state as follows:

“This matter has been resolved by agreement. The parties have agreed that Defendants shall be restricted in their actions as set forth in the terms of the attached Consent Decree. Defendants have not admitted any liability and specifically deny they have committed any statutory violation.”

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan Abady, Matthew Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Debra Greenberger, and Vivake Prasad, as well as Free Speech For People and Lathrop GPM LLP.

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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.

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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)

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ECBAWM Files Set of Election Cases to Protect Voting Rights

Over the past week, ECBAWM has filed three federal lawsuits to protect voting rights for the November 3 election.

In Council on Islamic Relations-Minnesota and League of Women Voters of Minnesota v. Atlas Aegis LLC, et al., we filed a lawsuit against a private security contractor for voter intimidation in Minnesota. On Thursday, October 29, a federal court enjoined the contractor from coming within 2,500 feet of Minnesota polling sites and from intimidating Minnesota voters.

In Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, et al. v. Donald J. Trump, et al., we filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the defendants, including President Donald J. Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolfe from continuing to intimidate voters.

Press
“’Threats Terrifyingly Credible’: Trump Administration Sued for Alleged ‘Violent’ Voter Intimidation” (Newsweek)
“Voting rights group files suit against Trump, administration officials alleging voter intimidation” (The Hill)
“Trump Sued Over Alleged Voter Intimidation By Rights Group” (Forbes)
“Calling Trump a ‘Clear Threat to Our Democracy,’ Civil Rights Group Sues Admin. Over Voter Intimidation” (Common Dreams)
“Civil rights group sues Trump administration over voter intimidation: A ‘clear threat to our democracy’” (AlterNet)
“Mi Familia Vota sues Trump admin, alleging election sabatoge” (The Tucson Sentinel)
“Mi Familia Vota Sues Trump Citing Pattern Of “Violently Suppressing Opposition, Sabotaging A Free And Fair Election” (Latin Life Denver)
“Group Says Trump Must Be Stopped From Sowing Election Day Chaos” (Courthouse News Service)

In Mi Familia Vota, Texas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, et al. v. Greg Abbott and Ruth Hughs, we filed an emergency motion to excise Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s “voting” exemption from the statewide mask mandate. Our motion that would require voters and poll workers in Texas to wear masks during early voting and on Election Day was granted.

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Texas Governor’s Polling-Place Mask Exemption Struck Down by Federal Court

On Tuesday night a federal court granted ECBAWM’s emergency motion to invalidate Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s “polling place” exemption to the statewide mask mandate. The carve-out from the mask requirement would have exposed voters and poll workers to increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 and disproportionately impacted people of color. The defendants immediately appealed and obtained an administrative stay from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs have opposed the stay and expect a prompt ruling from the appellate court.

ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Debra L. Greenberger, along with Free Speech for People, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, and Lyons & Lyons, P.C., represented plaintiffs Mi Familia Vota and the Texas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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Federal Court Halts Planned Voter Intimidation in Minnesota

A federal court today granted ECBAWM’s request for a preliminary injunction against Atlas Aegis, Inc. and its chairman Anthony Caudle from moving forward with illegal plans to intimidate Minnesota voters. The Court’s order prohibits the defendants, a private security company with no ties to Minnesota, from deploying armed agents within 2,500 feet of any Minnesota polling place during early voting and on Election Day, as well as threatening to deploy armed agents to Minnesota or intimidating Minnesota voters in any way. Defendants must also disclose the names and contact information of the individuals alleged to have been involved in recruiting armed agents to intimidate voters.

ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Debra L. Greenberger, and Vivake Prasad represent the plaintiffs, along with Free Speech For People and Lathrop GPM LLP.

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Mi Familia Vota, Texas NAACP and Individual Plaintiff Seek Emergency Order to Prevent Public Health Risk to Texas Voters

ECBAWM, along with Free Speech for People, Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, and Lyons & Lyons, P.C., represents Mi Familia Vota, the Texas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and an individual plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughs.

Plaintiffs seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to immediately excise the mask mandate exemption in Governor Abbott’s July 2, 2020, Executive Order relating to the use of face masks (Executive Order GA-29). While the Order specifically states that “requiring the use of face coverings is a targeted response that can combat the threat to public health using the least restrictive means,” and that “wearing a face covering is important not only to protect oneself, but also to avoid unknowingly harming fellow Texans,” it also includes an exemption for all people at polling places:

“Every person in Texas shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household; provided, however, that this face-covering requirement does not apply to the following:

8. any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face covering is strongly encouraged.”

This exemption to Executive Order GA-29 creates an unacceptable and unnecessary health risk to all poll workers and voters, but especially to Black and Latino voters, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are likely to experience serious COVID-19 illnesses more frequently and with a higher rate of death as compared to white COVID-19 patients. Black and Latino voters are also more likely to wait in longer lines than white voters, increasing the chances for exposure to COVID-19.

Despite evidence of this increased risk and the Governor’s own acknowledgment, supported by scientific findings, that masks help combat the spread of COVID-19 by the “least restrictive means,” Governor Abbot has refused to withdraw the exemption for mask wearing at polling sites. Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleges that the exemption is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, because it disproportionately burdens the rights of Black and Latino voters.

ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Debra L. Greenberger represent the plaintiffs.

Additional coverage of this case:
“5th. Cir. Revives Challenge to Texas’ Voter Mask Exemption” (Law360.com)
“Federal appeals court revives challenges to Texas election policy allowing poll workers to forgo wearing masks” (Jurist)

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ECBAWM Clients Challenge Campaign to Send Armed Guards to Minnesota Polls

Free Speech for People, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, and Lathrop GPM LLP, filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of plaintiffs The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota against a private mercenary contractor, Atlas Aegis, for voter intimidation in Minnesota. The complaint alleges that Atlas Aegis’s plan to hire and deploy armed ex-soldiers to polling sites in the state constitutes illegal voter intimidation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Press Release
More coverage of the lawsuit can be found on The Minnesota Reformer, Talking Points Memo, and Minneapolis Star Tribune.

ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. AbadyMatthew D. Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Debra L. Greenberger, and Vivake Prasad represent the plaintiffs, together with Free Speech For People and Lathrop GPM LLP.

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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.

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