Through a holistic lens, the Economic Justice Project engages in impact litigation and legal advocacy to ensure that communities of color can access opportunities and meaningfully engage in the economy to lead dignified lives free from discrimination. Our work includes:
- Eliminating barriers to equal opportunity for underrepresented employees, including individuals with criminal histories;
- Ensuring equal pay for women, including women of color;
- Advocating for administrative and legislative policies that protect communities of color, including in the areas of immigration, reproductive access and consumer protection; and
- Tackling discrimination in public accommodations.
The Economic Justice Project engages in impact litigation on behalf of people of color using a variety of legal tools, including federal, state and local laws that prohibit discrimination in employment and public accommodations, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which promotes the accuracy, fairness and privacy of consumer information contained in consumer reporting agency files.
Paul v. Georgia Tech and University System of Georgia
The Lawyers’ Committee, Outten & Gold LLP and Atlanta-based Buckley Beal LLP recently filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC against the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and the University System of Georgia (USG) alleging that the University’s criminal background check policies and practices used to screen job applicants result in unlawful discrimination against African Americans in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The charge was filed on behalf of Mr. Benjamin Paul and similarly situated individuals.
Lawyers’ Committee v. OMB
On September 20, 2017, the Lawyers’ Committee and the National Women’s Law Center filed several FOIA requests with the Office of Management and Budget in connection with its sudden and largely unexplained decision to suspend an initiative previously approved by OMB for the collection of pay data from employers by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). After more than five months of OMB not producing a single document or providing any substantive response, the Lawyers’ Committee and NWLC filed suit in the D.C. District Court on March 21, 2018 seeking declaratory, injunctive and other appropriate relief. The complaint states that women working full-time, year-round are typically paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, and comparing women of color to white, non-Hispanic men, the pay gaps are generally larger. Men of color experience similar pay disparities compared to white, non-Hispanic men and the lack of comparative salary and wage information may contribute to the persistence of race and gender pay gaps.
NAACP v. Philips Electronics et al (NYS Supreme Court, New York County)
In June 2015, the NAACP filed a class action 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. The lawsuit sought an injunction forbidding defendants from posting and disseminating the illegal listings on job search websites. Monster, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter were joined as necessary defendants to effectuate the relief sought and to ensure that the injunction is effective and enforced. On May 16, 2018, the Lawyer’s Committee was successful in getting the settlement approved and a certified a class of NYC employers who are alleged to have illegally posted job listings with unlawful blanket bans. The settlement includes monetary and injunctive relief (including training to HR employees on providing candidates with criminal records proper consideration for employment; developing stand-alone policies in their HR manuals reaffirming commitment to hiring people with criminal records; and conducting affirmative outreach to job candidates with criminal convictions).
Long v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (E.D. Pa.)
On April 27, 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of 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 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 for lack of standing and failure to state a claim, which Judge Petrese Tucker granted in April 2017. Thereafter, the Lawyers’ Committee filed an appeal of the FCRA claim in the Third Circuit, and filed the CHRIA claim in state court. Our state court claim was dismissed on August 25, 2017, which the Lawyers’ Committee appealed. On December 12, 2017, attorney Deepak Gupta argued the appeal on behalf of plaintiffs before the Third Circuit. Judges Restrepo, Chageres and Fisher sat on the panel and on September 10, 2018 issued a ruling in plaintiffs’ favor, stating that job applicants have standing to sue under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
United States v. Consolidated City of Jacksonville (Middle District of Florida)
On April 23, 2012, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville, FL 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.
The complaint alleges that the examinations impact African-American candidates in two ways. First, African-American candidates for promotion to the four positions pass the examinations at significantly lower rates than white candidates. Second, even those African-Americans who pass the examinations are rarely promoted because the fire department selects candidates for promotion in descending rank-order based primarily upon each candidate’s written examination score; and African-American candidates score significantly lower than whites. The complaint also alleges that the City’s examinations violate Title VII because they result in a disparate impact on the basis of race and because Jacksonville cannot prove that the test is job related and consistent with business necessity (i.e., that it truly tests for what the job requires). The parties have arrived at a settlement, and the settlement is pending approval. A fairness hearing was held on December 19, 2018.
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.
Records Assistance Project
As a result of the settlement in Gonzalez v. Pritzker, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has partnered with Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations ILR to create the Records Assistance Project (RAP) to provide eligible Census class members with pro bono legal assistance designed to aid them in getting their criminal records corrected, sealed, and/or expunged. The Lawyers’ Committee is working closely with law firms and legal service organizations across the country to coordinate pro bono record clearance and rap sheet repair services.
On March 18, 2019, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law submitted comments opposing the CFPB’s proposed delay of the compliance date for the ability-to-repay provisions of its final payday/auto title/high-rate installment loan rule (Payday Rule). Delayed implementation of the Payday Rule will have profound negative consequences on African American and Latinx communities, and in particular unmarried female headed households. A delay in the implementation of the Payday Rule would allow predatory lenders to continue exploiting low income communities and communities of color by trapping borrowers in cycles of defaults and refinancing.
In May and June, 2018, the Economic Justice Project issued various FOIA requests to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) seeking records related to CFPB Acting Director & OMB Director Mick Mulvaney’s efforts to deregulate payday lending and weaken the CFPB’s fair lending enforcement by moving the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity (OFLEO) and dismantling the Consumer Advisory Board. Payday lending has disparate impacts on African American and Hispanic communities; a rollback of the CFPB’s Payday Loan Rule will remove important consumer protections for these communities. Similarly, the CFPB’s efforts to significantly reduce fair lending enforcement will disproportionately impact low-income communities of color.
Civil Damages Disparities
How Race, Ethnicity, and Gender Impact Your Life’s Worth
The report addresses the use of race/ethnicity and gender in determining future income earning in wrongful death or personal injury actions and how this practice perpetuates discrimination by reinforcing pay disparities and failing to account for future progress. Though this is a significant issue, and one of the only instances where court-sanctioned discrimination is allowed to occur, very few state or federal reforms have been proposed and none have been passed. The report urges state legislators to pass laws prohibiting the discriminatory use of wage and earnings tables delineated by race and gender in the calculation of damages so that women and people of color receive parity in civil damage awards.
Public Accommodations Discrimination
Toward a Vision for Racial Equity & Inclusion at Starbucks: Review and Recommendations.
On April 12, 2018, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were the victims of a highly publicized, wrongful arrest and detention at a Philadelphia Starbucks. As a result of this incident, they retained the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to work with their attorneys at Cohen Placitella & Roth to assist in recommending specific actions for Starbucks. Their recommendations, focused on preventing similar incidents from occurring in the future included in the report titled, “Toward a Vision for Racial Equity & Inclusion at Starbucks: Review and Recommendations” and authored by Heather C. McGhee and Sherrilyn Ifill. The objective of this report is to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future and to provide input and recommendations on how Starbucks can foster an inclusive, diverse, and anti-biased workplace. In addition to looking inward in order to achieve racial equity, the report urges Starbucks to look outward and engage and participate with their communities.
Title VII Brief
In partnership with the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights and a coalition of 57 other civil rights and social justice organizations, we have filed an amicus brief in support of three Supreme Court LGBTQ workplace discrimination cases.
The brief urges the Court to find that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination constitutes discrimination “because of … sex” and notes that recognition of this reality is essential to safeguarding the job security and economic stability of millions of LGBTQ people in American, especially those most often subjected to employment discrimination: LGBTQ people of color.
On November 15, 2018, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury published two final rules that, if enacted, will deprive thousands of women of meaningful access to contraceptive health care services. The Religious Exemption Rule and the Moral Exemption Rule broadly exempt nearly every employer or university with a religious or moral objection from complying with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide coverage for comprehensive preventive health services, including no-cost coverage for contraception services. Several states’ attorneys general challenged rollback and the Northern District of California and the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered a preliminary injunctions. The Administration has appealed the decision to the Third and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals.
The Lawyers’ Committee and the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with a coalition of civil rights organizations, submitted an amicus brief highlighting for the court how these rules will discriminate against employees and students who exercise their fundamental right to reproductive decision-making by using contraception – a right long recognized by the Supreme Court as a constitutional liberty. Theses rollbacks discriminate against women by singling out health care services predominantly used by women as a lesser form of care that employers and universities are free to exclude from comprehensive coverage. The amicus brief also highlights how women of color, in particular, will bear the brunt of the burden of this rollback because they already face heightened structural barriers accessing and navigating the health care system, and in exercising their right to reproductive health care. The Affordable Care Act has provided many of the over 15 million women of color with private insurance with coverage for preventive services, including cost-free contraceptives. With 83 percent of Black women, 91 percent of Latina women and 90 percent of Asian women of reproductive age using contraception, this significant coverage gain is vital for the millions of women of color seeking to plan their reproductive lives and gain greater financial stability for themselves and their families. The new rules threaten to rollback those advances and will perpetuate a longstanding history of systemic burdens and infringement on the reproductive rights of women of color and low-income women.
Additional Amicus Brief Participation
Publications and Resources
How Race, Ethnicity, and Gender Impact Your Life’s Worth.
Toward a Vision for Racial Equity & Inclusion at Starbucks: Review and Recommendations.
Lawyers’ Committee Presentation on Tolerance and Inclusion in the Workplace