CVS Store Detectives File Race Discrimination Class Action Alleging Forced Racial Profiling of Black and Latino Shoppers

As reported in the NY Times:

"Four former store detectives employed by CVS in New York filed a class-action lawsuit against the drugstore chain on Wednesday, accusing their bosses of ordering them to target black and Hispanic shoppers.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, also alleged that the detectives were fired after they complained about racial discrimination, against both customers and themselves.
The plaintiffs, all of whom are either black or Hispanic, contend in their suit that two supervisors in CVS’s loss-prevention department, overseeing stores in Manhattan and Queens, regularly told them to racially profile nonwhite shoppers. The suit says that one of the supervisors, Anthony Salvatore, routinely told subordinates that “black people always are the ones that are the thieves,” and that “lots of Hispanic people steal.” The second supervisor, Abdul Selene, frequently advised detectives, known at CVS as market investigators, to “watch the black and Hispanic people to catch more cases,” the suit said." (keep reading)

New York's Redlining Race Discrimination Remix

These days the most common claims of lending discrimination have been "reverse redlining" cases.

But the NY Attorney General is hot on the trail of apparently resurgent good-old-fashioned redlining discrimination.  The AG filed a suit for discriminatory redlining practices against the parent company of Hamburg-based Evans Bank -- and has described the alleged redlining as a textbook example of an illegal redlining policy:

“This is classic redlining,” Schneiderman said, tracing his finger around the boundary. “If you had to make up a hypothetical to explain to law students what redlining is, you would use a map like this.”
Schneiderman also cited statistics showing that from 2009 to 2012, Evans received 1,114 applications for residential mortgages in the Buffalo metro area, but only four were from African-American applicants. He also said of those 1,114 applications, only eight came from the East Side and just one of those was from an African-American. Schneiderman said that competing banks were lending at much higher rates." (link)

Here's the relevant map of Evan's lending:

AR-140909880.jpg&maxW=602&maxH=602&AlignV=top&Q=80.jpg

To be blunt, this map does very much look like it could be in a lending discrimination textbook.

Moreover, it looks like there's more good-old-fashioned redlining litigation to come:

“We are looking at other banks in other parts of the state, and if banks do not agree to resolve these really disgraceful practices, then there will be further litigation,” Schneiderman said at a news conference in his Buffalo office." (link)

Stay tuned for some discrimination classic hits!

Barneys Settles "Shopping While Black" Suit With NY AG

As covered by the Style of the Case:

"According to the agreement, Barneys will pay $525,000 in damages, fees, and penalties, employ an anti-profiling consultant with expertise in the prevention of racial profiling in loss prevention and asset protection; Investigate customer complaints of profiling; develop and conduct anti-profiling training for loss-prevention and sales employees; adopt new loss-prevention detention policies and a new anti-profiling policy;limit access to its closed-circuit TV areas by local law enforcement officers and maintain records of visits by local law enforcement officers; and establish new record keeping requirements on investigations, detentions and false stops conducted by loss-prevention employees.
Rev. Al Sharpton released a statement Monday:
'Barneys’ agreement with the attorney general was a 'move in the right direction towards fairness and equal respect for all consumers, but we must monitor and continue to be vigilant.''” (link).

Rather incredibly, this is the second time the NY AG has sued Barneys for this exact same thing.

"In 2005, the state attorney general’s office, then under Eliot Spitzer, filed a federal lawsuit against Macy’s that claimed racial discrimination of black and Hispanic customers.

* * *

Macy’s at the time denied any wrongdoing, but the suit was resolved after the company agreed to pay $600,000 in damages, create a position of security monitor, develop regulations on handcuffing, and keep a database of records of all detentions." (link)

Question - Who will be the next AG to bring the same suit, about the same thing, ten years from now after Schneiderman -- and will it also be settled for almost the same amount of money?

Actually, this time it was resolved for $75,000 less than in 2005 so I guess we can estimate it will be $450,000 next time around.

Barneys appears to be a truly wonderful store.

NYC Sued for Inaccessible Sidewalks For Visually and Physically Disabled

Earlier this week Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action suit against New York City regarding the inaccessibility of NYC streets to the disabled:

"In a complaint received by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the group, Disability Rights Advocates, said the class-action suit aimed to “end decades of civil rights violations” in what is ‘arguably, for non-disabled residents, the most pedestrian-friendly large city in the United States.’
Sidewalks and pedestrian routes, the group said, are often inaccessible for blind New Yorkers and people who use wheelchairs, walkers and other travel aids. Among the dangers, the group described curbs without ramps at pedestrian crossings, midblock barriers like raised concrete, and broken surfaces that can imperil wheelchair and cane users.
The focus of the suit is Lower Manhattan, below 14th Street, where problems are pronounced, according to the complaint.” (link)

The lawsuit, which alleges violation of both federal and city law, seeks to certify a class action of “all persons with mobility and/or vision disabilities who have been and are being denied the benefits and advantages of New York City's pedestrian rights-of-way in Lower Manhattan because of Defendants' continuing failure to design, construct, and maintain pedestrian rights-of-way that are accessible to persons with mobility and/or vision disabilities.”

 The complaint seeks only declaratory and injunctive relief – including that the City:

a. Ensure that pedestrian rights-of-way, when viewed in their entirety, are readily accessible and usable by persons with vision and mobility impairments.

b. Undertake prompt remedial measures to eliminate physical barriers to access to pedestrian rights-of-way to make such facilities accessible to Plaintiffs in accordance with federal accessibility standards.

 c. Maintain any existing accessible features of Defendants' pedestrian rights-of-way so that such features provide full usability for persons with vision and mobility impairments.

 d. Ensure that all future new construction and alterations to sidewalks and streets results in the provision of pedestrian rights-of-way that are fully compliant with federal accessibility standards;

 e. Prepare a complete Self-Evaluation and a complete and publicly available Transition Plan regarding the accessibility of existing pedestrian rights-of-way in compliance with Title II of the ADA and Section 504.

 Some interesting observations from the complaint:

a)  more than 600,000 New Yorkers with mobility and vision disabilities continue to be excluded from the pedestrian culture that is so critical to community life in New York City because many of the City's sidewalks and pedestrian routes are too dangerous for use by persons with disabilities.”  (emphasis added).
b)    “A recent survey conducted by the Center for Independence of the Disabled ("CIDNY") of 1066 curbs in Lower Manhattan found that more than seventy-five percent of the corners surveyed had barriers presenting safety hazards to persons with mobility and vision impairments, including nearly a quarter of the curbs surveyed having no curb ramps whatsoever.” (emphasis added)

Lastly, the complaint notes that the suit was filed only after the De Blasio administration “refused to provide meaningful access to their sidewalks and pedestrian routes by making improvements to curb ramps and sidewalks over a reasonable period of time” or “participate in structured settlement negotiations to discuss these proposed improvements.”

It will be interesting to see how the professedly liberal De Blasio administration handles this litigation in the long term. 

Notably, shortly before De Blasio took office, and after several years of litigation, the Bloomberg administration finally settled a class action lawsuit concerning the accessibility of NYC taxicabs to the disabled.

The De Blasio administration obviously cannot waive a magic wand and fix every sidewalk curb in a day.  But why not enter into cooperative negotiations to formulate a reasonable plan to address this problem instead of wasting money, time, and resources defending a lawsuit - only to eventually settle anyways years later? Moreover, this suit concerns the disability rights statutes that advance the progressive platform and governance the administration has repeatedly stated it is focused on making a reality in NYC?

There are a lot of potential supporters, and ultimately votes, available from the visually or physically impaired NYC community that would also make these efforts politically worthwhile - that is if these voters can safely get to the voting booth on a NYC street.

 

Intro to the NYCHRL: Your Right to a Non-Discriminatory Lunch

New York City is undeniably more liberal than most other places in America.  So it should be no surprise that it has one of the most protective anti-discrimination statutes in the country. 

In contrast, federal discrimination claims often face difficult hurdles.  There are countless situations where behavior that is objectively discriminatory, would not make it far as a discrimination claim under only federal law.

The result is that clearly discriminatory conduct goes unpunished, not because it is not discrimination, but because discrimination law has a standard, either judge made, or based on the text of the statute, that is very conservative - demanding at times incredibly exacting evidentiary support. 

But what about situations that are clearly discriminatory, but where there is a “smart discriminator”?  A discriminator who fails to leave a helpful document trail clearly showing the reason they did what they did was based on discrimination or retaliation.

Or what about instances that are discriminatory, but where the courts are be hesitant to find discriminatory because the conduct is viewed by some merely as passing slights?

Enter stage left – the New York City Human Rights Law, which applies less demanding standards for finding conduct to be discriminatory compared to its federal and state counterparts.

In fact, there are some pretty striking examples where the NYC law supported a discrimination lawsuit that might not have made it far in court under only federal law.

Here is one:

At an administrative hearing, a restaurant, a place of public accommodation under Administrative Code section 8-102(9), was found to have engaged in discrimination against an African American customer by asking her to pay for her food before receiving it, while three non-African American customers were not required to pay for their food until receiving their food orders. Respondents failed to demonstrate a legitimate, non-discriminatory motive for treating the African American customer differently.

Annotated NYC Administrative Code 8-107

Importantly, just this one instance was enough to find the restaurant liable for discrimination.

The restaurant was ultimately fined $5,000.

Amazingly, the restaurant did this to a “tester” from the New York City Commission on Human Rights – i.e. an employee of the Commission. 

 You can read the final decision and previous history here.

Come back for additional case studies demonstrating the distinction between federal and NYCHRL discrimination standards.

 

LA's Lawsuit Against Wells Fargo Gains Further Steam

The City of Los Angeles' suit against Wells Fargo (previously covered here) made further progress this week:

"A federal judge has denied Wells Fargo's latest bid to end a lawsuit brought by the Los Angeles city government accusing the bank of discriminatory lending that led to a wave of foreclosures among minority borrowers.
In a ruling made public on Monday, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright denied the San Francisco-based bank's motion to have an appeals court decide whether Los Angeles has legal standing to recover damages under the U.S. Fair Housing Act.
Wells is one of four banks sued by Los Angeles for allegedly giving minorities mortgage loans they could not afford, causing defaults, lower property values and neighborhood blight.
The city is seeking damages for lost tax revenue and increased city expenses in affected neighborhoods."  (continue reading)

New York Students Join Constitutional Challenge to Teacher Tenure Rules

As previously covered here, last month a California court ruled that California teacher tenure rules were unconstitutional under the state constitution.

New York students have followed with a similar suit regarding teacher tenure in New York:

Eleven New York Public School students filed a class action lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State Thursday, claiming teacher tenure laws violated their State constitutional rights to a "sound basic education."
. . .
The lawsuit declares New York Education law, Section 3020a and its implementation as unconstitutional. Plaintiffs claim that employment as an educator in New York State is an earned privilege and cannot be a life-long right for incompetent teachers; the process for due process protections are onerous and create disparate costs for lower-income and non-white populations; and if a teacher's performance is below minimum standard guaranteed by the New York State constitution, they should not able to retain their employment during a downsizing period based on their seniority. (link)

A press release announcing the suit notes the abysmal status of student performance in New York schools:

"Across New York State, about 70 percent of students do not read, write and do math at grade level.  This is a crisis of epic proportions. New York City schools in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods are staffed with the highest concentration of Unsatisfactory-Rated teachers.  Yet, every attempt to hold teachers accountable for educating our children is blocked.  Bad laws need to go. It is time to reform the law and put our children's interests.  Every child must receive equal access to a high-quality education." (link)

It looks like for the near future this is the battle ground on which teacher tenure will be preserved or dismantled across the country.


MLK - Economic Justice & Racial Justice Are Intertwined - The Need for a Living Wage

The current debate about the need, or lack thereof, to raise the federal minimum wage is slowly heating up.  Advocates stress human dignity and the economic stimulus this policy would advance.  Opponents point to the cost to businesses' bottom line  - often invoking the mom and pop store that is barely making ends meet. 

Although I think proponents very much have the upper hand in this argument - this is surely a place where reasonable minds can disagree.

Or can they?

As in most things, it's sometimes important to take a step back and re-frame modern debates in historical contexts.

Most people remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as one of the great leaders of the civil rights movement.  However, near the end of his life, he was increasingly focusing his message on the problems of poverty and economic justice.  Moreover, this shift in focus happened well before America had even begun to fully deal with racial equality - so why the shift?

If you are an advocate for a living wage take a moment to see what MLK had to say about it.

If you consider yourself a supporter of MLK, but are opposed to a living wage, you may have to do some soul searching on this issue if you take the time to listen.

Perhaps this should change how we talk about a living wage as a national issue.


Long-Term Unemployed More Likely to be Highly Educated, Older, and Black

After all of that hard work getting a degree(s) - a report finds that the long-term unemployed are more likely than the short-term unemployed to be older, non-Hispanic black, and wait for it .... have higher levels of education than the short-term unemployed.

"The long-term unemployed are more likely than short-term unemployed to be older, have higher levels of education, and be non-Hispanic black." (link)

This report might give those considering entering higher education in the face of mounting student loan debt a moment of pause.

Of course, older unemployed black people will also probably find the report disheartening.

Teacher Employee Rights and Student Equal Protection Rights Collide: California Teacher Tenure Laws Ruled Unconstitutional

At one point quoting Brown v. Board of Education, a California state court judge found that California's teacher tenure rules violated the state constitutional right to education and the equal protection rights of minority and/or poor students.

"LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education, a decision that hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case that overturns several California laws that govern the way teachers are hired and fired.

'Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,”'Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in the ruling. 'The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”'

The ruling, which declared the laws governing how teachers are hired and fired in California to be unconstitutional, is likely to set off a slew of legal fights here and in other states, where many education reform advocates are eager to change similar laws. 

***

The plaintiffs argued that California’s current laws made it impossible to get rid of low-performing and incompetent teachers, who were disproportionately assigned to schools filled with poor students. The result, they insisted, amounted to a violation of students’ constitutional rights to an education."  (link)

The decision cites a study that calculates the cost of a single year of teaching by a "grossly ineffective" teacher was $1.4 million in students' lifetime earnings per classroom.  Another cited study calculates there are between 2,750 and 8,250 "grossly ineffective"  teachers in California classrooms.

Importantly, many other states, including New York, also have a state constitutional right to education that will likely provide a basis for similar challenges to teacher tenure rules.