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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 STOP 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)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” The Washington Post (11.9.20)
“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)
“NYPD shift for religious headgear in lawsuit settlement,” Olean Times Herald (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 represent the plaintiffs., 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 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.

Article

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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