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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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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.

ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld, Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovich represent petitioners and the putative class.

“Medical Expert: Federal Jail Intentionally Destroying Medical Records and Hiding Extent of Coronavirus Behind Bars,” The Intercept
“Doctor issues damning report on Brooklyn federal jail’s handling of coronavirus outbreak, calling out botched medical response and inadequate protective gear,” New York Daily News
“Brooklyn Judge Finds ‘Cautious Optimism’ in Federal Jail’s Response to COVID-19,” New York Law Journal
“Doctor Sounds Alarm: Conditions Inside Federal Jail In Brooklyn Are Promoting Spread Of COVID-19,” Gothamist

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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 Southern 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.

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.

“MGM Told to Hand Over Trump’s ‘Apprentice’ Tapes in Scam Suit,” Bloomberg Quint

 

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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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Class Action Seeks Release of 540 People and Changes to Protect Others Confined at Brooklyn MDC from the Novel COVID-19 Virus

Petitioners Hassan Chunn, Nehemiah McBride, Ayman Rabadi, and Justin Rodriguez filed a class-action lawsuit today against Warden Derek Edge in federal court. The case seeks the immediate release of approximately 540 people most vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19 and a special master to oversee improvements in the conditions of confinement at Brooklyn’s federal jail, Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”), to combat the spread of the virus.

New York City is the epicenter of the Country’s struggle with COVID-19. The risks posed by COVID-19 to people confined in jails and prisons—in terms of transmission, exposure, and harm—are stark and alarming. For reasons beyond their control, people in jails and prisons cannot practice social distancing, control their exposure to large groups, practice increased hygiene, wear protective clothing, obtain specific products for cleaning or laundry, avoid high-touch surfaces, or sanitize their own environment. People in jails and prisons are more vulnerable and susceptible to the risks of coronavirus because they are more likely to have chronic underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung and liver diseases, asthma, and lower immune systems from HIV. People have limited opportunities to access medical care under normal circumstances in jails; medical facilities are limited, and as staff become sick, fewer people are present to care for those who remain confined.

The outbreak of a highly infectious, deadly virus in a closed detention setting is a disaster, calling for urgent and decisive action to protect the health of those confined in the jail, those who work there, and the medical professionals who will treat those who become infected.

The lawsuit alleges that Respondent Warden Derek Edge has not taken steps to protect Petitioners from the substantial risk of harm posed by COVID-19, nor could he under the MDC’s current conditions. It seeks immediate relief on the grounds that every hour that Petitioners are held under these circumstances, they are exposed to the substantial risk of a COVID-19 infection, with a substantial risk of death to follow and that continuing to hold vulnerable people under these circumstances violates their Constitutional rights.

ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld, Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovich, together with the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, and Alexander A. Reinert, represent petitioners and the putative class.

“Jails Are Petri Dishes’: Inmates Freed as the Virus Spreads Behind Bars,” New York Times

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Ten ECBAWM Attorneys Named as Super Lawyers; Four Named as Rising Stars

ECBAWM is proud to announce that partners Richard EmeryAndrew CelliMatthew BrinckerhoffJonathan AbadyIlann MaazelEarl WardHal LiebermanDan KornsteinAndrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2019. Partners Zoe Salzman and Sam Shapiro and associates David Lebowitz and Alanna Kaufman were named as Rising Stars.

The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found here.

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ECBAWM Client Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against The City of New York for Abuse of Power

Juliet Dietrich—a disabled, 68-year-old former corrections officer—has filed suit against the City of New York and Department of Citywide Administrative Services Special Officer Charles Parker for false arrest and excessive force.

On August 6, 2018, Special Officer Parker pulled her from her car and arrested her over a perceived parking violation. Ms. Dietrich’s permit for her disability allowed her to use spaces designated for “any governmental agency.” Nonetheless, Special Officer Parker was angry that Ms. Dietrich was occupying a parking spot reserved for those associated with the Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. Apparently, an able-bodied member of the Borough President’s administration—David Johnson—had demanded that her car be moved. Special Officer Parker reached into the car, grabbed Ms. Dietrich by the arm, and yanked her from the vehicle onto the street. Special Officer Parker then arrested Ms. Dietrich on false charges. Ms. Dietrich had no record. But because of the defendants, she was held in custody for more than 12 hours and then forced to fight false charges against her for nine months. Ms. Dietrich’s case challenges this abuse of power on the doorstep of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall.

Ms. Dietrich is represented by ECBAWM attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Alanna Kaufman. An article about the case in the New York Daily News is available here.

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ECBAWM and A Better Balance Client Successfully Resolve Her Gender Discrimination Claim Against MOMA PS1

Nikki Columbus, who sued MoMA PS1 in the New York City Human Rights Commission for revoking her job offer after learning she had just had a baby, settled her claims with PS1, in an agreement requiring PS1 to pay Ms. Columbus a financial award and to update its written policies to protect women and caregivers. “What happened to me was wrong and clearly against the law,” Ms. Columbus said in a statement. “I decided to speak out in order to protect other women at MoMA PS1 and beyond.”

“Curator Says MoMA PS1 Wanted Her, Until She Had a Baby,” New York Times
“MoMA PS1 Settles With Curator Who Said Giving Birth Cost Her Job Offer,” New York Times
“The Art World Is Considered a Progressive Place, But It Has a Big Blind Spot: Supporting Working Mothers,” ArtNet

Ms. Columbus was represented by A Better Balance and ECBAWM lawyers Elizabeth Saylor, Katherine Rosenfeld, Andrew Wilson, and Ali Frick.

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ECBAWM Clients File Class Action to Challenge Conditions of Confinement at Brooklyn MDC

Plaintiffs David Scott and Jeremy Cerda filed a class-action lawsuit today against Warden Herman Quay in federal court. The case challenges the conditions of confinement at Brooklyn’s federal jail, Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”), during the humanitarian crisis that unfolded over the bitterly cold week of January 27, 2019 to February 3, 2019, after an electrical fire at the jail.

As widely reported and alleged in the complaint, during the crisis people were left locked in their cells with almost no light or heat for a week. People were confined in near pitch-black darkness. People sat shivering in their beds, huddled under blankets with little or no heat in the cells. The suit also alleges that the lack of light and heat was compounded by an array of other brutal conditions. People were confined to their cells continuously for days. Hot showers and hot water were suspended or severely limited. Cells with toilets that were not functioning were filled with the smell of decaying feces. People continued to live in their soiled clothing and bedsheets without any laundry. Requests for medical and psychiatric care were ignored. People had no access to regular or hot food. Communication with the outside world—whether by email, phone, or visits from lawyers or family—ceased. People struggled to maintain their sanity in a void of information about when the blackout would end. And, of course, jail employees were forced to work under these impossible circumstances. The lawsuit also claims that, in response to the crisis, MDC’s Warden, Defendant Herman Quay, engaged in dereliction of his obligation to provide these most basic minimal living standards to more than a thousand people in his care and custody. These problems were longstanding and foreseeable, and the Warden failed to assess the infrastructure problems that had long plagued the jail.

ECBAWM Attorneys Katherine R. Rosenfeld and O. Andrew F. Wilson represent Mr. Scott, Mr. Cerda, and the putative class.

“‘It’s Cold as Hell’: Inside a Brooklyn Jail’s Weeklong Collapse,” New York Times
“Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Warden Of Freezing, ‘Inhumane’ Brooklyn Jail,” Gothamist

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