Civil Rights Clinic Provides Legal Services for Foster Youth
year the Civil Rights Clinic, led by Professor Deborah N. Archer, teamed
up with the Children’s Aid Society to provide legal services to
foster care children who, in the process of aging out of the system, are
confronted with an array of legal and non-legal issues. Gregory Bailey 3L
and Kerry McGrath 3L assisted a young woman, “Sarah,” in
finding long-term housing after her adoptive mother abandoned her when she
turned 18 years old. Sarah entered the foster care system as an infant and
was adopted along with her three sisters. Shortly before Sarah’s
high school graduation, her adoptive mother moved to New Jersey and left
Sarah in the custody of another family member. Sadly, Sarah’s family
member refused to care for her and forced her to leave the apartment
despite the fact that she had nowhere to go and no way of supporting
Sarah turned to the Children’s Aid Society for support. Children’s Aid referred Sarah to the Covenant House, a shelter for at-risk youth. Unfortunately, Sarah continued to encounter obstacles. After she spent one month in the shelter, she was denied an extension and discharged onto the street.
Greg and Kerry advocated for Sarah at Covenant where she felt she was not being treated fairly. They made sure Sarah’s social worker referred Sarah to long-term transitional living programs and followed Covenant’s policy of granting extensions and re-admitting youth to the shelter. Greg and Kerry also helped Sarah apply for several transitional housing programs for youth. Fortunately, while applying for these programs, Sarah was able to reunite with her sisters and is in the process of regaining control of her family’s apartment. Sarah is now enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and looks forward to pursuing her career in nursing while living independently.
Civil Rights Clinic Students Victorious in Reaching Settlement in Employment Discrimination Case
Civil Rights Clinic students Lynn Cho 3L and Christopher Binns 3L, under the supervision of Professor Deborah N. Archer, successfully negotiated a $5,000 settlement for their client, “Darnell,” who filed an employment discrimination complaint against his former employer. Darnell alleged that his employer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when he was terminated based on his race and gender.
After working for the company for four years, Darnell transferred to an office in a different state in order to pursue his legal education. Soon after his transfer, Darnell began an interracial romance with a co-worker. When Darnell sought to end the relationship, his co-worker filed a sexual harassment complaint against him with the company’s human resource department. Darnell responded to the claims by providing documentary evidence of the intimate nature of their relationship, but to no avail. Without investigating the allegations against Darnell or the evidence of the relationship he provided, the company immediately terminated his employment.
The basis for Darnell’s employment discrimination complaint was two-fold. First, he alleged racial discrimination based on the company’s response to his interracial relationship. Second, he alleged gender-based discrimination because the company believed it would be easier to fight a claim of employment discrimination against a man than to defend itself in a sexual harassment case brought by a woman.
Darnell’s case was ordered to mediation in the Southern District of New York. Prior to mediation, Lynn and Christopher successfully negotiated a settlement of $5000, a change to Darnell’s human resources record to reflect voluntary termination instead of termination, and a neutral employment reference. In the end, Darnell was very happy to be able to move forward with his life knowing that his employment record was clear of any negative charges, and his employer was relieved to be spared the time and cost of litigation.
Civil Rights Clinic Students Help to Remove Past Vestiges of Discrimination in School Desegregation Cases
The Civil Rights Clinic (CRC), supervised by Professor Deborah N. Archer, is assisting the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) in two school desegregation cases to ensure that two southern school districts are complying with court orders and effectively addressing vestiges of discrimination in their schools. Although one might think that most of these cases would have been resolved, hundreds of suits are still active because the school districts have not yet proven to the courts that they have transitioned from a segregated system to a “unitary” system in which white and black students enjoy equal educational opportunities and facilities.
In assessing whether a school district has achieved “unitary” status, the courts review several Green factors, established by the Supreme Court in Green v. County School Board of New Kent in 1968. The factors include student assignment, faculty assignment, staff assignment, transportation, extracurricular activities, and facilities. CRC students are currently investigating whether two school districts are making progress in satisfying each Green factor and ensuring that they are complying with court orders.
In Horton v. Lawrence County Bd. Of Education, CRC 3L students Greg Bailey, Elliott Dolby-Shields, Melissa Flores, Matthew Hellman, and Kendra Okposo are helping to ensure that a recently consolidated Alabama high school is honoring a court-approved plan to move toward unitary status. In December, students traveled to Lawrence County, Alabama, where they toured schools and met with community group members to learn what problems the school district has not effectively addressed and whether it is in compliance with reporting requirements and court orders.
Similarly, in Ayers v. Western Line Consolidated School District, CRC 3L students Christopher Binns, Lynn Cho, David Henek, Kerry McGrath, and Katie Smelas, are working to ensure that the school district is remedying deplorable conditions in its majority-black Mississippi High School, which is vastly inferior to other predominately white schools in the district. A recent site visit and interviews confirmed that the predominately black school’s science labs are not functioning because they contain no running water or gas, the gymnasium has limited use because students do not have access to running water to drink or shower, students are not able to complete homework because they cannot bring textbooks home, and the guidance counselor is only providing students with information about 2-year junior colleges. In response to these concerns, students wrote a letter to the school district demanding that these issues be properly addressed and are currently awaiting the school district’s response.
Civil Rights Clinic Students Successfully Mediate Employment Discrimination Case
Kendra Okposo 3L and Matthew Hellman 3L, under the supervision of Professor Deborah N. Archer, represented “Cynthia,” a former public school teacher, in an employment discrimination claim in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Cynthia experienced discrimination based on her race and national origin and brought a claim under Title VII against her former principal and school.
Cynthia had been struggling as a pro se litigant for nearly five years before a federal judge ordered the parties to mediation. Despite the duration of the proceedings, there remained considerable animosity between the parties that threatened the success of negotiations. Pro se Title VII plaintiffs face many challenges in the federal court system, and mediation provided a crucial opportunity for Cynthia to achieve a just end to her claims. While the mediation did not completely redress all the suffering Cynthia endured, it was a vital opportunity for Cynthia to be heard, and it has provided her with closure.
In November, Matthew and Kendra represented Cynthia in her mediation. After several rounds of intense back and forth negotiation, Cynthia accepted a settlement offer of $42,500. In addition to the monetary figure, the defendants agreed to provide neutral employment references, a stipulation that allowed Cynthia to move forward in her career.
Urban Law Clinic Students Successfully Negotiate Settlements in Employment Discrimination Cases
Clinic students, Jeremy Wechsler 3L (left) and Jessica Fisher 3L (right),
successfully negotiated a settlement for reinstatement before a court
appointed mediator for an employment discrimination case filed in the
Southern District of New York (S.D.N.Y.). The S.D.N.Y. Employment
Discrimination Pro Bono Mediation Program assigned the case to the
students. Jeremy and Jessica represented Donna, an African American female
who was wrongfully discriminated against by her employer. Donna was
employed with this company for approximately three years in the security
services industry. While working for the defendant as a Site Supervisor,
Donna was allegedly paid $3.00 less then her male counterparts for
equivalent work in violation of both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of
1964 (Title VII) and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. In addition, Donna was the
victim of race and gender discrimination in violation of Title VII. As a
result of these incidents, Donna filed a claim with the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission, after which the claim was removed to the Southern
District of New York pursuant to statutory procedures. The S.D.N.Y. judge
requested that Donna enroll in the S.D.N.Y. Pro Bono Mediation Program,
wherein an amicable solution to the dispute could be achieved without
litigation. Providing reinstatement with the employer was one remedy that
could be sought at mediation, but which could not be obtained through
litigation. After two mediation sessions, Jeremy and Jessica were able to
reach an agreement between Donna and the defendant.
Katherine Greenier 2L (left) and Joanna Reihing 3L (right) successfully mediated an employment discrimination case before the Honorable Judge Katz of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 15, 2009. The plaintiff claimed his employer unlawfully failed to provide him with accommodations for religious observance, created a hostile work environment, and ultimately fired him as a result of his need for religious accommodation. Their client, a Pentecostal Christian, was unable to work on Sundays due to his observance of the Sabbath. At the time he was hired, he indicated this orally to his supervisor and the Director of Human Resources. A few months after the time of hiring, the Defendant asked the Plaintiff to perform duties which targeted other employees in an effort to create trouble for them. In one instance, Plaintiff’s supervisor hid a pair of made to measure pants so that the tailor would be penalized, after the Plaintiff refused to do so himself. Immediately following their client’s refusal to engage in such actions, the Defendant began stripping away the Plaintiff’s job duties and began scheduling him to work Sundays. At the same period of time, the Plaintiff’s supervisor made derogatory comments about the Plaintiff’s ethnicity, and made derogatory comments about other employees’ sexuality and race in the presence of the Plaintiff. Following the numerous scheduling conflicts, the Plaintiff emailed his supervisor, reminding them of his need for Sundays off in order to observe the Sabbath. That same day, the Plaintiff was fired; the Defendant claimed they could no longer afford him the privilege of not working Sundays. Following a mediation session at the Honorable Judge Katz’s chambers on April 15, 2009, Katherine and Joanna successfully settled the case for $5,000 and a positive reference letter provided by the Defendant.
Urban Law Clinic Students Score Another Victory with $110.000 Settlement
Urban Law Clinic Students, Charlene Barker 2L (left) and Stephanie Torre 3L (right) successfully negotiated a $110,000 settlement before Debra Freeman for the Southern District of New York (S.D.N.Y.) in an employment disability discrimination case. The case was assigned to the students after Judge Shira Scheindlin; district court judge for the S.D.N.Y. referred the case for a settlement conference and specifically requested that the Urban Law Clinic represent the plantiff.
The students represented Cynthia, a permantly disabled woman who was wrongfully terminated by her employer, a major New York City law firm, after it refused to provide her with an accomodation as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Throughout Cynthia's employment whe was continually subjected to harsh fumes and sprays from the firm's incessant use of propellant irritants in her work area. The fumes caused Cynthia such severe bronchial spasms that she was often forced to seek emergency room treatment. In 2001, Cynthia was diagnosed as having irritant-induced asthma; she promptly notified her supervisors, provided medical documentation, and requested an accomodation. Despite receiving repeated documented requests over the course of five years her employer failed to make a good faith attempt to accomodate her disability. Cynthia ultimately developed nerve damage, thoracic and lumbar disc herniation, and lumbar radiculopathy as a result of the firms's proposed failure to accomodate her breathing condition. Adding insult to injury, the firm ultimately placed her on unpaid leave and later terminated her employment after she had worked for the firm for 13 years.
Prior to being represented by the students in the settlement conference, Cynthia and her former employer attempted to resolve the case through mediation but were unable to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution. Despite the unsuccessful mediation the students were able to secure a settlement package five and a half times larger than the employer's initial offer of $19,500. The settlement agreement ensures that Cynthia will be able to receive all benefits that she is entitled to under her former employer's pension package. Although the monetary award will not redress all the pain and anguish that Cynthia has suffered, it provides much needed closure to what has been an extremely harrowing and traumatic experience for her.
Urban Law Clinic Students Successfully Mediate Case on Behalf of Discriminated Client
Urban Law Clinic Students Matthew Windman 3L (left) and Eric Henry 2L (right) successfully negotiated a large settlement in federal mediation for their client, who had worked as a dental assistant to a large hospital. After the Client complained that he was being unjustly discriminated against by his supervisors and coworkers due to his ethnic, racial, and religious background, he was promptly terminated without a legitimate justification. This caused the client to endure an extended period of unemployment, severe psychological trauma, and medical damages.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from taking retaliatory personnel actions against employees who have previously engaged in activity protected under Title VII, such as pursuing a complaint of employment discrimination. It is, therefore, unlawful for an employer to terminate a person because that person is pursuing a complaint of discrimination. While it was disputed that the dental assistant had complained to his superiors, Matthew and Eric had to analyze the facts in order to prove that a casual connection existed between the client's complaint and his termination.
Following several rounds of intense negotiation, Matthew and Eric successfully negotiated a large settlement that included both back pay and compensatory damages. Though nothing can erase the pain and humiliation that their client endured, this settlement will allow him to move on with his life without pursuing the time and expense of trial litigation.
Urban Law Clinic Students Win Impartial Hearing against NYC Department of Education
On March 6, 2009, the Urban law Clinic celebrated a major victory when it won an impartial hearing against the New York City Department of Education ("DOE"). In August of 2008, Urban Law Clinic students Jessica Fisher 3L (right) and Jeremy Wechsler 3L (left) were assigned a special education case concerning an 8-year-old child named Joseph. Joseph's parents and treating psychologist believed that he was not receiving an approriate educatona and needed to be placed in a private school specializing in speech and language disabilities. When the Urban Law Clinic agreed to take the case in early August 2008, an impartial hearing request had already been filed by Joseph's treating psychologist, leaving Jessica and Jeremy with minimal time to prepare for the impartial hearing.
From the time that Joseph was approxiametely 1 year old, his parents observed that he did not appear to understand what they communicated to him, and he was unable to express himself verbally. Joseph was eventually diagnosed with a severe receptive expressive language disorder, which is a speech and language impairment that impedes his ability to comprehend and express information. In addition, Joseph was recently diagnosed with a central auditory processing disorder. When Joseph's parents first observed his difficulties, he was enrolled in an early intervention program and then attended a private preschool that focused on providing services for his speech and language disorder. These initial steps, however, did not remediate Joseph's impairment.
Even though Joseph still suffered from a severe expressive receptive disorder, the DOE placed him in a regular education classroom when he turned 5 years old without providing him with the requisite services to remediate his disability. Due to the fact that Joseph was not receiving the necessary special education services, he was unable to perform and progess at a typical pace. In addition to his academic difficulties, Joseph's impairment impacted him socially and emotionally. Due to his inability to communicate with others, Joseph developed severe anxiety and depression, exacerbating an already precarious situation. Despite receiving comprehensive evaluations indicating the severity of Joseph's speech and language impairment, the DOE maintained that Joseph's current educational placement was appropriate to remediate his impairment. Unable to convince the DOE otherwise, the impartial hearing commenced, requesting that the DOE pay for Joseph to attend a private school specializing in speech and language impairments.
The impartial hearing required three full hearing dats, during which Jessica and Jeremy conducted cross-examiniations for six of their own witnesses, four of whom were expert witnesses. In addition to witness testimony, Jessica and Jeremy submitted documentary evidence substantiaing their legal assertions. The hearing officer's decision mandates that the relief granted be implemented immediately. Joseph should be enrolled at his new private school by the beginning of April, where he will finally receive the appropriate special education services to remediate his speech and language impairment.
Urban Law Clinic Students Successfully Negotiate Settlements for Impaired Student
Urban Law Clinic students Katherine Greenier 2L (left) and Joanna Reihing 3L (right) successfully negotiated a resolution agreement with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) securing compensatory services and exploration of new physical therapy techniques for thier client, David. David, a 7-year-old boy diagnosed with autism began receiving home-based Applied Behavorial Analysis (ABA) therapy while attending preschool. Home ABA therapy services are critical for David's educational progress--they help him transfer skills he learns at school to his home environment and enable him to meet his educational goals at school. When David entered kindergarten, the DOE resisted continuing ABA home therapy on his Individualized Education Program (IEP).
David's mother requested a hearing to challenge the refusal, and secured ABA home services for the 2006-2007 school year. She was again met with resistance when requesting home ABA therapy for the 2007-2008 school year, but persuaded the DOE to provide the service for David during negotiation. David's mother, however, did not receive authorization for payment of a home ABA provider until three months after the resolution session, meaning David missed many crucial hours of ABA therapy. Additionally, David's mother requested in a 2006 IEP meeting that David's physical therapist focus on developing David's gross motor skills. However, currently these goals are not yet met and David shows little or no progress in the physical therapy goals outlined on his IEP.
Katherine and Joanna filed an impartial hearing request, requesting that the DOE provide compensatory services for the time missed in ABA therapy. They also sought sensory based physical therapy services for David for him to meet the goals of his IEP and retain and progress in learning the basic skills at his developmental level. In the resolution session prior to the impartial hearing, Katherine and Joanna convinced the DOE to provide authorization for payment of an outside provider for all ABA sessions David had not recieved. The DOE also agreed to explore new sensory based physical therapy techniques, to incorporate in to David's current physical therapy sessions.
Katherine and Joanna also represented Nijm, an 11 year old boy diagnosed with autism and moderate mental retardation. Nijm, at first misdiagnosed in his early elementary school years, was placed in a variety of inapproriate classroom settings, which were unable to meet his educational needs, until June of 2007 when the DOE recommended that Nijm be placed in a 6:1:1 class in District 75 in a 12 month program. The school year began in July, but the DOE did not provide placement in a school until mid-October, during which time Nijm was not only without related services mandated by his IEP to address his educational needs, but did not receive any classroom program. In this current school year, Nijm's school failed to provide all related services required by Nijm's IEP, denying him an appropriate education under the law. Katherine and Joanna filed an impartial hearing request seeking compensatory services for the time Nijm did not receive a placement or related services. They also requested one on one academic assistance for Nijm in order to ensure he does not regress in skills. In negotiation prior to the impartial hearing, Katherine and Joanna persuaded the DOE to provide authorization for payment for an outside provider for all related services missed. The DOE also agreed to provide a one on one tutor for the remainder of the school year.
Urban Law Clinic Students Successfully Negotiate Settlements for Impaired Students
Urban Law Clinic students Charlene Barker 2L (left) and Stephanie Torre 3L (right) represented Wilfred, a 16-year-old boy who has cerebal palsy and a seizure disorder, and is cortically blind, nonverbal, nonambulatory, and not toilet trained. Despite being at a school for a number of years, Wilfred has not made any educational improvements and has regressed in both his educational and physical gains. Specifically, Wilfred has lost his ability to say the few words that he previously could and is no longer able feed himself or sit up without the help of paraprofessional.
Wilfred was placed in a District 75 school that was ill-equipped to meet his complicated educational needs. The school relied heavily on visual aids to teach him despite knowing that he was blind, thus unable to attain any benefit from these activities. The school also neglected to provide him with a majority of the therapeutic and related services mandated by his Individualized Education Program (IEP), which was formulated by the DOE. Wilfred typically spent the entire day in his wheelchair losing what little muscle strength he had, furthermore, by the second month of school he had missed 18 occupational therapy sessions. After visiting the school and observing the practices there, the students convened a Committee on Special Education Review Team to assess his current program and advocate for a new placement. During the conference, the students negotiated a settlement agreement that requires the DOE to place Wilfred in a residential educational program that will be able to address all his needs and provide him with the education he deserves. The residential program will provide Wilfred with a curriculum tailored to his needs; however, in the interim his IEP has been augmented to better address his disabilities.
The Clinic students also represented Brittney, a 13 year old child with severe speech and language impairments and an IQ level significantly below her age and grade level. Prior to the completion of Brittney’s last year in junior high school, her mother contacted the DOE and requested that they provide a placement for Brittney for the upcoming academic year. The DOE provided Brittney with a placement in a school that was not qualified to teach children with speech and language impairments. Despite being notified of this the DOE failed to provide Brittney with another placement for the school year, left with no other recourse her mother enrolled her in a private school equipped to address her disability. The DOE also refused to provide Brittney with transportation to and from school despite acknowledging that she had an IQ level comparable to a second grade child. The students filed an Impartial Hearing request to address these issues but were able to negotiate a $ 42,500 settlement agreement with the DOE requiring them to cover the costs of tuition prior to the date of the hearing. The students were also able to amend Brittney’s IEP to include transportation services to and from school. The settlement agreement ensures that Brittney will be able to remain at the school while the DOE covers the cost.
Urban Law Clinic Students Successfully Negotiate Settlement for Autistic Client
Urban Law Clinic Students, Jeremy Wechsler 3L (left) and Jessica Fisher 3L (right), successfully negotiated a settlement agreement with the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) enabling their client, Jordan, to be placed in a private school. Jordan, a five year-old child with severe autism, had aged out of his pre-school program last year, requiring that a new school placement be located for him. Due to the DOE’s failure to locate any placement, Jordan was out of school receiving absolutely no educational services since May. Jeremy and Jessica filed an Impartial Hearing complaint, seeking to force the DOE to immediately locate an appropriate educational placement for the student. While preparing for the Impartial Hearing, Jessica and Jeremy convinced the DOE to hold a settlement conference during which they persuaded the DOE to agree to place their client in a private school for children with autism.
Unfortunately, autism is becoming more pervasive and placements at appropriate schools in New York City are severely limited. However, in conjunction with the legal action taken, Jeremy and Jessica located an appropriate private school specializing in autism where Jordan could be immediately placed. Jordan has already completed the necessary intake session for the school, and will hopefully be joining his new classmates shortly.
Urban Law Clinic Students Successfully Negotiate Settlement for Impaired Student
Urban Law Clinic students Eric Henry 2L (right) and Matthew Windman 3L (left) successfully negotiated a settlement with the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”). Eric and Matthew represent an 11-year old boy with a Speech and Language Impairment. His impairment makes it difficult for him to communicate because his speech is virtually unintelligible. Since 2005, the youth has been attending a private school in Springfield Gardens, NY that specializes in educating children with Emotional Disturbances, and not Speech and Language Impairments. He is performing drastically below grade level, because he has not been receiving specific Speech and Language services which cater to his condition.
In accordance with every child’s right to a “free and appropriate public education”, the child’s parents have repeatedly asked the DOE to place the youth in an appropriate placement. In mid-October 2008, Eric and Matthew were successful in securing compensatory services for the child from the DOE. These services will provide the child with intensive speech therapy to compensate for the time that he did not receive such services.
The next step will be to secure a permanent, appropriate placement for the youth.
Urban Law Clinic Students Protect Voter Rights in New Orleans
Urban Law Clinic students, Jessica Fisher 3L and Charlene Barker 2L along with Justice Action Center student Zachary Kerner 3L traveled to New Orleans to join the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (“LDF”) in its voter protection initiative. LDF litigates cases and assists disenfranchised voters all over the country to ensure that the rights of African Americans and other minorities are protected. One of LDF’s target states during this election is Louisiana because of the massive displacement of voters since Hurricane Katrina. Many voters in New Orleans, one of the areas most affected, are either unaware of where to vote, or turned away from the polls due to issues such as address verification. The students took to the streets during Louisiana’s congressional primary to educate the voters and help them navigate the election system to ensure that they were able to cast their ballot. At one poll site, the students were able to assist handicapped voters gain access to an inaccessible polling site. The students were also repeatedly called upon to advocate on behalf of voters who were turned away from the polls, ultimately ensuring that dozens of voters had their ballot counted. The students also visited the lower ninth ward, the area hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina to assist those residents in voting. The students will continue their efforts and return to Louisiana in November for the General Election. Following the election, the students will draft complaints against Louisiana Board of Election officials regarding the potential voting violations.