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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 the 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.

To read more about the lawsuit, click here.

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. To read the Complaint, click here.

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Lawsuit Challenges Louisville’s Military-Grade Protest Response

ECBAWM and co-counsel the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a class-action lawsuit against the City of Louisville, Kentucky, its Mayor Greg Fischer, and several Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (“LMPD”) officials and officers to enjoin the LMPD from using military-grade crowd control weapons against peaceful protesters, and it seeks damages on behalf of several such protesters who have already been harmed by these brutish tactics.

After the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many other Black people who have died at the hands of police, people in Louisville joined in the wave of protests across the country to advocate for an end to racist and violent policing. In response to this courageous exercise of First Amendment rights, the LMPD attacked the peaceful crowds, indiscriminately firing at them with tear gas, pepper bullets, flash bangs, and other military-grade weapons designed for enemy combat. In some cases, officers fired live ammunition into the crowds, striking several protesters. When journalists attempted to document this unconstitutional use of force, officers tracked them down and sprayed them with more pepper bullets and beat them with batons.

“Louisville is using weapons of war against its own citizens,” said ECBAWM partner Sam Shapiro. “It is trying to silence peaceful protestors through unjustified arrests and trumped-up charges. Shockingly, its mayor and the leadership of the LMPD are endorsing this unconstitutional conduct. Our clients are committed to fighting back against these practices. They are bringing this case to make Louisville safe for all peaceful protestors.”

To read the complaint, click here.

To read a press release about this lawsuit, click here.

ECBAWM’s Earl S. WardO. Andrew F. WilsonSam Shapiro, and Andrew Jondahl, along with attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky represent Plaintiffs.

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Federal Judge Sanctions MDC for Spoliation of Evidence in COVID-19 Class Action Lawsuit

On Tuesday, June 10, U.S. District Judge Rachel Kovner issued her ruling on the motion filed by ECBAWM and co-counsel the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, Alexander A. Reinert, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, for preliminary injunction in Chunn v. Edge, 20 Civ. 1590 (E.D.N.Y.), a class action lawsuit challenging the response of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) to the COVID-19 pandemic. While denying the request for immediate relief, which would have released medically vulnerable inmates from the MDC, Judge Kovner also found that responses to requests for medical care had been slow at times and the facility had not isolated all inmates who exhibited COVID-like symptoms. Significantly, Judge Kovner drew an adverse inference against the MDC based on its spoliation of paper records of requests for medical care after the lawsuit was filed and imposed sanctions against MDC. “The court’s sanction of the MDC for spoliating evidence during the litigation is a reminder that prison officials are not above the rules,” said ECBAWM attorney Katherine Rosenfeld, who, along with fellow ECBAWM attorneys Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovich, represents petitioners and the putative class. You can read the full Law.com article here.

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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. Read a copy of the Complaint here.

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

May 18, 2020 – 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, here, in Lohud, here, in Black Westchester, here, and in Patch, here.

A.A. and B.A. are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew Wilson and Emma L. Freeman.  You can read a copy of the Complaint here.

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ECBAWM and Co-Counsel File Medical Expert’s Report Finding Serious Failures in Jail’s Coronavirus Response

On April 30, 2020, ECBAWM along with co-counsel the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, Alexander A. Reinert, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, filed a motion for preliminary injunction in Chunn v. Edge, 20 Civ. 1590 (E.D.N.Y.) a class-action lawsuit challenging the response of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) to the COVID-19 pandemic. The motion seeks relief for medically vulnerable people incarcerated in the MDC and improved conditions. The report submitted in support of the motion by Dr. Homer Venters, a leading expert in health services for incarcerated people, describes the failures of the MDC to appropriately respond to protect the health and safety of people confined in the MDC and staff. After Respondent moved to strike the report, U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann denied the Respondent’s motion less than 24 hours later.

To read about the denial of the Respondent’s motion to strike, click here.

To read more about Chunn et al. v. Edge, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit and expert report by the Intercept, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit and expert report by the NY Daily News, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Law Journal, click here.

To hear WNYC’s coverage of the case, click here.

ECBAWM Attorneys Katie Rosenfeld, Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovichrepresent petitioners and the putative class.

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Trump Family’s Effort to Compel Arbitration of Fraud Case Denied

On April 8, 2020, a federal court denied the attempt of Donald Trump, his immediate family, and The Trump Corporation to compel arbitration of the fraud case pending against them in the Sothern District of New York. The case, filed in the fall of 2018, alleges the Trumps defrauded investors into purchasing memberships in a multi-level marketing scheme called ACN.  The Trumps had argued that the court should stay the fraud case in favor of individual arbitration based on agreements that the investors had signed with ACN. The court denied the motion on the grounds that the Trumps and ACN were never sufficiently connected such that the investors would have understood that any of their contractual obligations with ACN would correspond to obligations with the Trumps.

A full copy of the decision can be found here.  Reporting on the decision in Reuters can be found here and on Bloomberg Quint here.

The investors are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jonathan S. Abady, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Katherine Rosenfeld, Sam Shapiro, David Berman, and Nick Bourland.

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ECBAWM Client Files Religious Head Covering Class Action Against Yonkers

April 8, 2020 – 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.”

For more information, read coverage from The Huffington Post, NBC News, Lohud and The Union Journal. Read the CAIR-NY’s press release here.

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

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