The Economic Justice Project litigates individual and class action lawsuits on behalf of minorities and women using a variety of legal tools, including state and local laws that prohibit employment discrimination because of criminal background, and federal statutes such as Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, or national origin in certain places of public accommodations; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion; and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which promotes the accuracy, fairness and privacy of consumer information contained in consumer reporting agency files.
Tackling Barriers to Re-Entry
Hardie v. NCAA (Title II disparate impact case)
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed suit on behalf of Dominic Hardie in 2013 seeking to challenge the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) policy permanently banning all individuals with a felony conviction from coaching in NCAA-certified high school events, arguing that the policy violates Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it disproportionately impacts African Americans, who are more than three times as likely as white Americans to have a felony conviction. Title II prohibits discriminatory denials of access to places of public accommodation, like sports arenas and stadiums.
Mr. Hardie is a 39-year-old African American social worker who founded Triple D Hoops, a Houston-area nonprofit organization that works to positively affect the lives of young athletes by developing their self-esteem, confidence and motivation through basketball. Mr. Hardie was convicted of drug possession when he was 23 years-old and has not been convicted of a crime since then. A former Division I college basketball player himself, Mr. Hardie is a dedicated coach committed to helping his players secure college basketball scholarships. In 2012, the NCAA, pursuant to its arbitrary blanket ban policy, denied Mr. Hardie’s application to coach in its tournaments because of his nonviolent felony from 2001.
The U.S. District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the NCAA on March 24, 2015 finding disparate impact liability does not apply to Title II. Mr. Hardie filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in April, 2015 and oral arguments were held on January 11, 2017. A ruling from the panel is pending.
Dominic Hardie is represented by Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee of Civil Rights Under Law, Jack W. Londen (LCCRUL board member), Brian R. Matsui, M. Andrew Woodmansee, and James Sigel of Morrison & Foerster LLP and Jeffrey M. David of Call & Jensen.
NAACP v. Philips Electronics et al. (NYC Human Rights Law)
In June 2015, the NAACP filed a class action in New York State Supreme Court against employers who use leading job search sites Monster, Indeed and ZipRecruiter to illegally post hundreds of job listings in New York with blanket bans on applicants with felony convictions. New York City law prohibits blanket rejections of applicants based on criminal history. The employers named in the complaint are representative of the large number of companies engaged in this illegal practice and include large employers like Philips, NTT Data and Recall. The lawsuit seeks an injunction forbidding defendants from posting and disseminating the illegal listings on job search websites. Monster, Indeed and ZipRecruiter have been joined as defendants because they are necessary to effectuate the relief sought and to ensure the injunction is effective and enforced.
In April 2016, the court denied a motion to dismiss by Monster Worldwide, ZipRecruiter and Indeed, ruling they were necessary for complete relief because employers’ alleged discriminatory ads were viewed through their websites. On July 18, 2016, the court also denied the motions to dismiss of defendants Philips and NTT Data. On October 13, 2016 the court granted preliminary approval of a settlement and conditionally certified a class of New York City employers who are alleged to illegally post job listings with blanket bans on applicants with felony convictions. Monster, ZipRecruiter and Indeed have jointly appealed the Court’s order denying their motion to dismiss. The appeal is currently pending before the Appellate Division.
NAACP is represented by Ossai Miazad and Christopher McNerney of Outten & Golden LLP, Dariely Rodriguez of the Lawyers’ Committee of Civil Rights Under Law and James I. Meyerson of the NAACP.
Long v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Fair Credit Reporting Act and PA Criminal History Record Information Act)
On April 27, 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of a job applicants rejected by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) based on information contained in their background check reports. The lawsuit alleges that SEPTA, the nation’s sixth largest public transportation system, willfully violated federal and state laws when conducting criminal background checks of prospective employees. Specifically, SEPTA is accused of 1) violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by not providing proper notices and failing to give plaintiffs a pre-adverse action letter and a copy of their consumer report before deciding not to hire them; and 2) violating Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act (CHRIA) through its policy and practice of disqualifying job applicants with unrelated felony convictions from employment in positions involving the operation of SEPTA vehicles. Defendant SEPTA filed a motion to dismiss on [insert date]. Judge Petrese Tucker held oral argument on October 12, 2016 on SEPTA’s motion to dismiss and the Court’s ruling is still pending.
In addition to the Lawyers’ Committee, the legal team for the putative class includes Board Member Adam T. Klein, Ossai Miazad, Lewis M. Steel, Christopher M. McNerney, and Cheryl-Lyn Bentley of Outten & Golden LLP; Michael Lee and Michael Hardiman of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity; Benjamin D. Geffen of Public Interest Law Center, of Philadelphia; and Ryan Allen Hancock and Danielle Newsome of Willig, Williams & Davidson.
Gonzalez v. Pritzker (Title VII disparate impact case)
In 2009 and 2010, the Census Bureau engaged in the temporary hiring of over one million temporary workers to conduct the 2010 census in a manner that discriminated against thousands of minority applicants. Applicants for the 2010 Census with an arrest record for any offense at any point in their lives – no matter how trivial or disconnected from the requirements of the job – faced an arbitrary barrier to employment. The Census Bureau required these particular applicants to produce the “official” court records of the disposition of their arrests to remain eligible for employment within 30 days of receiving a notice. Because of the difficulty, and often impossibility, of obtaining such proof, many people who had never been prosecuted or convicted of a crime were deterred or excluded outright from working for the Census. The Census Bureau’s screening procedure also resulted in the exclusion of many people with old and minor convictions for non-criminal offenses, misdemeanors, and other crimes that did not involve violence or dishonesty, and were irrelevant for the work required by Census desk or field positions.
On September 20, 2016, the Southern District Court of New York approved a landmark $15 million settlement in this class action lawsuit. The settlement provides for programmatic relief, including reforms to the Census Bureau’s hiring practices and targeted relief to applicants in anticipation of the 2020 decennial census by providing individual Class Members with the option to either receive advance notice of the 2020 decennial census hiring or expert and legal assistance understanding and cleaning up their criminal history.
The legal team for the plaintiffs included LCCRUL Board Member Adam Klein, Justin M. Swartz, Lewis M. Steel, Ossai Miazad, Sally J. Abrahamson, and Deirdre Aaron, of Outten & Golden LLP; Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia; Judy Whiting of Community Service Society of New York; Robert T. Coulter, of the Indian Law Resource Center, of Helena, Mont.; Jackson Chin of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, of New York; Ray P. McClain of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, of Washington, D.C.; and Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights of New York.
Equal Employment Opportunity in Civil Service Departments
United States v. Consolidated City of Jacksonville (Title VII disparate impact)
On April 23, 2012, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Florida against the city of Jacksonville, Florida alleging that the city is engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against African Americans in its fire and rescue department in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit challenges the fire department’s use of written examinations and ranking system for the promotion of firefighters to four ranks – Lieutenant, Captain, and District Chief, all in the suppression line, and Engineer. Litigation is ongoing.
Intervenor plaintiffs NAACP and Jacksonville Brotherhood of Firefighters are represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Kirsten Doolittle of the Law Office of Kirsten Doolittle. Intervenor plaintiff NAACP is also represented by LCCRUL board member Ben Blustein and Robert Libman of Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C..
E.E.O.C. v. Local 28 (Title VII)
On July 21, 2015, a federal court signed an order approving an estimated $12 million settlement of back pay claims for black and Hispanic sheet metal workers in litigation against their union. These minority members of Local 28 of the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association, the trade union for sheet metal workers in New York City, suffered underemployment from 1991 to 2006. This settlement supplements a 2008 settlement of $6.2 million, which covered back pay claims from January 1, 1984 through March 31, 1991. The case dates back to 1971. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP intervened in the case in 2003 on behalf of aggrieved minority members and successfully moved for the case to be certified as a class action.
Local 28 has also agreed to reforms designed to equalize work opportunities for nonwhite and white union members. These include improved monitoring and investigation of discrimination complaints, an expansion of the use of the union’s referral hall to guarantee non-discriminatory hiring decisions, increased education and training opportunities for members, and increased monitoring, analysis, and reporting of potential work hours disparities by the union.
The settlement was achieved after extensive negotiations with the union by the Lawyers’ Committee and Debevoise, on behalf of the class of underemployed black and Hispanic union members, along with the EEOC, the New York State Division of Human Rights, and the City of New York. The Court-appointed Special Master, David Raff, also had significant input into the final terms of the settlement and the enhanced injunctive reforms.