FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE –April 5, 2018
Contact: Staff Attorney Lisa Levy, 860-541-5021, email@example.com
TARGET SETTLES NATIONWIDE RACE DISCRIMINATION CLASS ACTION CHALLENGING CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECK POLICIES
Retailer Target Corp. has agreed to a settlement including priority hiring, monetary damages for class members who do not qualify for priority hiring, and new criminal background check policies in a nationwide class action on behalf of potentially thousands of African-American and Latino people denied employment by Target solely because of their criminal histories. Greater Hartford Legal Aid (GHLA) Staff Attorney Lisa Levy represented named plaintiff Ms. Carnella Times in filing her charge of race discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). GHLA claimed that Target’s rejection of Ms. Times’ job application due only to her ten year old misdemeanor record constituted unlawful race discrimination. After the EEOC determined that through its background check policy, Target had discriminated against Ms. Times and other similar applicants under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the law firm of Outten & Golden, joined by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, took the lead in developing the class action.
Under the Settlement Agreement, which was filed at the same time as the class complaint in federal court in New York, Target, with the help of nationally recognized experts, will develop a revised criminal background screening procedure. This procedure will ensure that people who have been convicted of criminal offenses will not be unfairly disqualified from positions for which they apply. Qualified class members will have priority for hire for positions at Target that become available for a twelve month period following the court’s approval of the settlement agreement. Class members who have found other gainful employment or otherwise would not benefit from employment at Target for reasons described in the settlement will be eligible to receive a monetary award based on a claims process implemented by a third-party claims administrator. Target will also contribute $600,000 to a “Pipeline Project,” assisting not-for-profit organizations that have effective re-entry programs to assist individuals with criminal records who have successfully completed “work ready” programs. Attorney Levy, who represented Ms. Times throughout the case, says: “African-American and Latino individuals, who suffer extensively from the stigma of a criminal record in seeking and maintaining employment, are disproportionately impacted by employers’ hiring policies that reject applicants with even minor convictions. This settlement will ensure that people with criminal records who are still qualified for jobs with Target, and who are disproportionately people of color, will have a fair and lawful opportunity for employment.”
With assistance from GHLA, Ms. Times was pardoned by the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole in 2008 for the misdemeanor convictions that had caused Target to reject her application. She now has no criminal record. Ms. Times says of the class complaint and proposed settlement: “I am very happy that this case is resolved. I’m especially glad that other people who are trying to provide for their families will not be unfairly denied a job with this company solely because of an old conviction that is not even jobrelated, or because of any conviction that is not job-related.”
City of Hartford Reaches Proposed $2.75 Million Settlement with Hartford Residents Previously Displaced from Condemned Housing March 21, 2018
Attorney Cecil J. Thomas 860-541-5017
Attorney David A. Pels 860-541-5013
On March 20, 2018, the City of Hartford and a class of Hartford residents reached a proposed class action settlement agreement that, if approved by the Court, will provide up to 2.75 million dollars in past due relocation assistance benefits to approximately 1700 Hartford families who had been displaced from their homes by City of Hartford code enforcement orders. The class of Hartford residents is represented by Cecil J. Thomas and David A. Pels of Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Inc. (GHLA). The proposed agreement was approved unanimously by Hartford City Council on March 12, 2018.
“This proposed agreement represents a fair resolution of this case for the affected class members,” said GHLA attorney Cecil J. Thomas. “Almost all of the affected families were ordered to leave their homes immediately, due to fires and housing code violations that were not their fault, without any of the basic relocation assistance they were legally entitled to at such an unsettling and stressful time.”
Superior Court Judge Glenn A. Woods has presided over this case since 2013. Judge Woods will now consider whether the agreement is fair to the members of the class, and will hold a hearing to consider whether to approve the proposed settlement, currently scheduled for June 22, 2018. If the proposed agreement is approved by the Court, there will be a process to allow affected families to file a claim for payment with an independent Claims Administrator who will administer the settlement fund. “If this agreement is approved,” said Attorney Pels, “long-overdue relief will be provided to our clients, without the uncertainty and lengthy delays associated with any appeal.”
Under a state law called the Connecticut Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (URAA), when a municipality orders a family to leave an unsafe home, it is required to provide limited monetary assistance, temporary housing, and advice to assist the family in securing decent, safe and sanitary permanent replacement housing. In rulings in 2014 and 2016, the Court found that the City of Hartford “has continually failed to make the statutory payments available” to the 1690 families that were displaced from their homes due to uninhabitable conditions, fires, and other serious housing code violations from January 1, 2010 through September 30, 2015. If the proposed agreement is approved, eligible families could receive up to the maximum payment available under the URAA.
The proposed settlement represents the latest development in Serrano v. Gaitor, a class action originally certified in 1984 in which the parties had reached an agreement, negotiated by Attorney Pels, providing that the City would inform displaced persons of their right to apply for relocation assistance under the URAA. After contempt proceedings were initiated by GHLA in 2013, the Court found the City of Hartford in contempt in 2014, and then entered a significant monetary judgment in favor of the class of residents in August of 2016. The City of Hartford appealed that decision, and the proposed settlement agreement is the product of approximately a year of negotiations between the attorneys for the parties.
While the proposed settlement is focused on past due relocation assistance payments, other agreements and orders in the case have ensured changes to the City of Hartford’s relocation assistance program. “We are also heartened,” said Attorney Thomas, “by the significant progress the City of Hartford has made in building a legally-compliant relocation assistance program. As a result of this case and our joint efforts, newly displaced families now receive a reasonable amount of time in temporary housing, clear written explanations of their rights under the law, and access to the modest payments they are entitled to in order to transition to a new home.”
GHLA will be working with an independent Notice and Claims Administrator and the City of Hartford to ensure notice is provided to the affected class members.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 13, 2017
Settlement of Food Stamps Class Action Ensures Hungry Connecticut Families Will Receive Timely Help
The Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) has entered into a Consent Order with the plaintiff class in Briggs et al. v. Bremby that will ensure that needy families receive timely food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Briggs case was filed in 2012 on behalf of food stamps applicants whose applications were not timely acted upon by DSS and who, as a result, did not receive the assistance they needed to put food on the table.
Food stamps provide nutrition assistance to low-income households. The Consent Order requires DSS to process food stamp applications and provide benefits to eligible households in a timely manner, as defined by federal law. This means that eligible needy households must get benefits within 30 days and the lowest income households must get assistance within 7 days. The Consent Order further requires DSS to provide extensive reporting demonstrating that is complying with the Consent Order. The Consent Order also assures that the federal court will retain oversight of DSS’s compliance.
Greater Hartford Legal Aid (GHLA) and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) co-counseled the class action, representing the Plaintiffs. The Honorable Judge Vanessa L. Bryant approved the Consent Order at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Hartford on March 8, 2017.
“DSS has made great improvements in the processing of food stamps applications since the class action was filed” says Lucy Potter, a GHLA attorney who represented the Plaintiff class. At the time the plaintiffs filed the suit, Connecticut was ranked among the worst states in the country in providing food assistance to needy families in a timely manner.
“We are gratified that the State will be working to ensure that low-income families in Connecticut will receive critical assistance in a timely fashion,” says Gina Mannix of NCLEJ.
The maximum food stamp benefit that a single person can get is $194 per month; the maximum that a family of four can get is $649 per month. The amount of the benefit depends on income and expenses. The federal government pays 100% of the cost of food stamps for families and individuals and 50% of the state’s administrative costs. As of July 2016, more than 405,800 people in Connecticut lived in households that received Food Stamps.
Hartford Ordered to Pay $6.253 Million in Past Due Relocation Benefits to Thousands of Hartford Families Displaced from Condemned Housing
Attorney Cecil J. Thomas 860-541-5017
Attorney David A. Pels 860-541-5013
On August 19, 2016, Superior Court Judge Glenn A. Woods issued a decision ordering the City of Hartford to establish a fund of $6.253 million to benefit a class of Hartford residents displaced from their homes as a result of housing code enforcement orders, without receiving relocation assistance payments mandated by state law. The decision covers tenant households that were displaced in Hartford from January of 2010 through September of 2015. The Court found that the City “failed to provide the statutorily required relocation assistance under the [Uniform Relocation Assistance Act].”
The Connecticut Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (URAA) is a state law that provides that when a city orders a person to leave their home, it must provide those displaced persons with relocation assistance, including payments for moving expenses and limited financial assistance to secure a new home that is “decent, safe and sanitary.” The Court found that the City of Hartford “has continually failed to make the statutory payments available” to the 1690 families that were displaced from their homes due to uninhabitable conditions, fires, and other serious housing code violations from 2010 through most of 2015.
The class of Hartford residents is represented by Cecil J. Thomas and David A. Pels of Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Inc. (GHLA). The decision represents the latest development in Serrano v. Gaitor, a class action originally certified in 1984 in which the parties had reached a settlement agreement, negotiated by Attorney Pels, providing that the City would inform displaced persons of their right to apply for relocation assistance under the URAA. In the fall of 2013, the plaintiff class of tenant households brought a contempt motion to enforce the 1984 agreement.
In February of 2014, the City of Hartford entered into a new court-approved agreement, agreeing to immediately begin complying with the Uniform Relocation Assistance Act. In October of 2014, the Court held the City of Hartford in contempt of the 1984 agreement, and found the City liable for damages to the members of the class. From September through November of 2015, the Court held hearings to determine the amount to award as damages to members of the plaintiff class. During these hearings, it became clear that the City of Hartford still had not developed a working relocation assistance program, despite its two prior agreements and the finding of contempt, resulting in hundreds of additional families being displaced without receiving assistance to which they were entitled under state law. During the hearings, City relocation assistance workers admitted that they had been directed by their supervisors not to make these legally-required payments to eligible displaced persons. City workers admitted that they had not begun consistently informing displaced persons of their relocation assistance rights until sometime in September of 2015.
The $6.253 million judgment represents the partial value of the payments that the 1690 affected households are entitled to under the URAA. The decision states that the City will be credited for relocation assistance payments that it made to displaced residents during the relevant period of time. The URAA provides a mechanism for cities to recoup relocation payments from landlords whose buildings are condemned, but Hartford also failed to do that for much of this five year period.
“This award represents fair and just compensation for the affected City of Hartford residents,” said GHLA attorney Cecil J. Thomas. “Almost all of the class members,” explained Thomas, “were ordered to leave their homes immediately, due to fires and housing code violations that were not their fault, without any of the basic relocation assistance they were legally entitled to at such an unsettling and stressful time. Our hope is that this order will also encourage the City of Hartford to maintain its efforts to build a legally-compliant relocation assistance program for its residents.”
Stacy May, one of the members of the plaintiff class, was displaced from her Hartford apartment with her son in February of 2015, due to burst heating pipes. Ms. May had been without heat for several days when she called the City of Hartford code enforcement officials, who condemned her apartment. Ms. May sought relocation assistance from the City of Hartford. Although under the URAA Ms. May should have received temporary housing, assistance with storage of her property, help locating a new apartment, and modest payments for moving expenses and rental assistance, City workers told her they had nothing to offer her. As a result, Ms. May was forced to split up her family, and had to stay with a friend in an overcrowded apartment for two months while she tried to find a new place to live. “This was a really difficult and stressful time for me and my son” said Ms. May. “I had never been homeless before, and I was surprised by the lack of compassion I experienced when I went looking for help.” Ms. May did not receive the proper relocation assistance payments from the City until the Connecticut Department of Housing ordered the City to make those payments after an administrative hearing, almost a year after her displacement. During the hearings before Judge Woods, the evidence showed that hundreds of Hartford families had similar experiences, of being suddenly displaced from their homes and left to fend for themselves.
GHLA will be working with a notice and claims administrator and the City of Hartford to ensure notice is sent to the affected class members and to establish a claims process for eligible class members.
For Immediate Release June 8, 2015
David Medina, Hartford Public Schools (860) 695-8862, firstname.lastname@example.org
Carisa Cunningham, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (617) 426-1350, email@example.com
Giovanna Shay, Greater Hartford Legal Aid (860) 541-5061 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hartford Public Schools to Train Principals On LGBTQQ Issues in the 2015-2016 School Year In the 2015-2016 school year, Hartford Public Schools, in collaboration with the LGBTQQ community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning), will train its principals on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
The training will also be provided to central office staff and faculty, and will cover state and federal nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sex, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation, as well as steps educators can take to create welcoming environments for LGBTQQ students and families.
The school system, which educates more than 21,000 students, has been working with advocates for the LGBTQQ community, including representatives of Greater Hartford Legal Aid (GHLA), and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
(GLAD), to enhance and implement its training on these issues, as an outgrowth of the 2011 Connecticut state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression.
“We’re glad that Hartford Public Schools is addressing LGBTQQ inclusion,” says Giovanna Shay, the attorney who leads the Education Unit at Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Inc.
For Immediate Release October 20, 2014
CITY OF HARTFORD FOUND IN CONTEMPT FOR FAILING TO PROVIDE RELOCATION ASSISTANCE TO TENANTS ORDERED TO VACATE UNINHABITABLE HOUSING
On Friday October 10, 2014, Superior Court Judge Glenn A. Woods issued a decision finding the City of Hartford in civil contempt for its violation of a 1984 settlement agreement in which it had agreed to comply with Connecticut’s Uniform Relocation Assistance Act (URAA) and provide relocation assistance and payments to tenants who are displaced by code enforcement. The tenants were represented in the motion for contempt by GHLA attorneys David A. Pels, Cecil J. Thomas, and Thamar Esperance. The court ordered hearings on relief and damages for the members of the plaintiff class, beginning with a court date on November 21, 2014.
The decision is the latest development in Serrano v. Gaitor, a class action originally certified in 1984 in which Attorney David Pels negotiated a settlement. In the fall 2013, the plaintiff class of tenant households, represented by Greater Hartford Legal Aid (GHLA), brought a contempt motion to enforce the 1984 agreement. The tenants had been ordered to vacate their uninhabitable Hartford apartments and had not received any relocation assistance from the City. Under the 1984 Serrano agreement, tenants who are ordered by the City to leave their apartments due to unfit conditions must receive a notice from the City of their right to apply for relocation assistance under the URAA.
Several hundred Hartford households are ordered to leave unsafe homes each year by code enforcement officials. State law provides that these households should receive a range of benefits and assistance, including temporary housing, help finding permanent housing, reasonable moving and displacement expenses, assistance with moving and storage of property, and some rental assistance to secure a safe replacement apartment. Landlords are required to reimburse the City for relocation payments when tenants are ordered to vacate the units because they are not fit for occupancy.
From January of 2010 through August of 2013, approximately 850 households received orders to vacate from the City of Hartford for unsafe conditions identified by code enforcement or the fire department. During this time, fewer than 100 households received any help, which was usually only two or three day stays in motels. No one during this time was offered the required assistance with moving and storage expenses, or the rental assistance payment available to allow a displaced household to secure safe, affordable and decent replacement housing. “Our goal with this litigation,” said GHLA attorney Cecil J. Thomas, “is to bring the City of Hartford into compliance with Connecticut’s relocation assistance laws, and to ensure that tenants who are suddenly ordered to vacate their homes are given the assistance they are entitled to at an extremely vulnerable time in their lives.”
Plaintiff class member Surema Oquendo’s story is one example of the problems that prompted the contempt motion in Serrano. When Ms. Oquendo called the City of Hartford to inquire about a safety concern in her apartment building, she learned that her apartment was an unlawful unit. The following day, the City of Hartford ordered her to immediately vacate the apartment, but never informed her of the availability of relocation assistance benefits. Told that she would have to make arrangements with her landlord, Ms. Oquendo was left scrambling for housing for herself and her family in the middle of winter, relying on the landlord to authorize a motel on a day-by-day basis. After two weeks, the landlord refused to pay for the motel. While Ms. Oquendo was in the motel, a pipe burst in her former apartment, and the landlord used her pots and bedding to collect and soak up the flooding water. When she returned, she found her property water-damaged and moldy. Ms. Oquendo was finally able to secure permanent housing on her own, after a month and a half of homelessness, and without any of the assistance that she was supposed to receive from the City of Hartford. Other class members who testified before the Court told similar stories of being suddenly forced out of their homes with no assistance from the City. Many of these individuals inquired with the City about relocation assistance, after finding information from other sources, only to be told that the program didn’t exist, or that they weren’t eligible.
The City has agreed to accept retroactive applications from tenants who have been displaced by City code enforcement activities since April 10, 2012. Tenants who have been ordered to leave their apartments as a result of City of Hartford code enforcement activities should contact the City of Hartford Department of Health and Human Services, at (860) 757-4700 to inquire about submitting an application for relocation assistance.
For more information about the case, or if you are a tenant who was ordered to vacate an uninhabitable apartment by the City of Hartford, please contact GHLA Attorneys Cecil J. Thomas (email@example.com) or David A. Pels (firstname.lastname@example.org) at (860) 541-5000.
For Immediate Release March 7, 2014
CITY OF HARTFORD TO RESUME RELOCATION ASSISTANCE TO TENANTS IN CONDEMNED APARTMENTS
The City of Hartford has signed a legal agreement to provide relocation assistance to tenants displaced by its code enforcement activity. The agreement is the result of a contempt action filed by Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Inc. (GHLA), which charged that the City was not fulfilling its responsibilities under state law and a previous class action settlement reached 30 years ago.
Under the agreement, tenants who are ordered by the City to leave their apartments due to unfit conditions will receive a notice from the City of their right to apply for relocation assistance under the Connecticut Uniform Relocation Assistance Act. The assistance may include help finding replacement housing, reasonable moving expenses, temporary housing, and some rental assistance to secure a comparable new apartment. The City has agreed to accept retroactive applications from tenants who have been displaced by City code enforcement activities since April 10, 2012. Tenants who have been ordered to leave their apartments as a result of City of Hartford code enforcement activities should contact the City of Hartford Department of Health and Human Services, at (860) 757-4700.
GHLA attorneys Thamar Esperance, David A. Pels, and Cecil J. Thomas represent the class of affected tenants. Tenants’ attorney Cecil J. Thomas said, “We are pleased that tenants who are ordered by the City to leave their apartments will now get the help they need during a stressful and disruptive time in their lives.”
Several hundred Hartford families are displaced by the City’s code enforcement activities every year. Landlords are responsible for reimbursing the City for relocation expenditures paid to tenants ordered to leave the landlords’ unfit building. Under the terms of the agreement, GHLA and the City of
Hartford will continue to work together to develop policies and procedures that will ensure the provision of relocation assistance to displaced tenants in accordance with state law.
The parties will return to court on April 7, 2014 so that a judge can decide two remaining issues in the case: whether the City must pay tenants who were not offered relocation assistance the value of their lost and damaged property; and what reports are required to ensure compliance with the Relocation Assistance Act. The case is called Serrano v. Gaitor.
Attorney Cecil J. Thomas 860-541-5017
Attorney David A. Pels 860-541-5013
Attorney Thamar Esperance 860-541-5025
MEDIA RELEASE 6-10-2013
Greater Hartford Legal Aid, Inc. (GHLA) announces the resolution of a complaint filed last year by GHLA with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) against Achievement First Hartford Academy Middle School (AFHA). GHLA’s complaint was filed on behalf of all students at AFHA with identified disabilities who have been denied a free and appropriate education due to AFHA’s failure to provide accommodations, modifications, and specialized instruction per 504 plans or IEPs, and AFHAs pervasive discriminatory discipline practices that violate federal and state law. AFHA is a public charter school in Hartford, CT, that receives federal and state money.
GHLA alleged that AFHA discriminated against students with disabilities by not providing them with necessary educational services and evaluations, and by using disciplinary practices which excluded them excessively from their classroom. The parents of these students sought GHLA’s help because their children were getting excessive demerits, detentions, and suspensions under AFHA’s strict enforcement of its policies and their educational progress was suffering.
Additionally, the complaint alleged that some students were not timely identified as having disabilities and did not receive educational supports, such as extra reading instruction or social work services. Once identified, some students’ educational plans were not faithfully implemented and supports were not provided.
In its signed agreement with OCR, AFHA has committed to remedying these problems by providing staff training in federal education requirements for students with disabilities (Section 504). In addition, staff will receive targeted training in autism, mood disorders, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and basic childhood trauma. AFHA also agreed to develop a centralized data system to keep track of all educational exclusions of students with disabilities. AFHA further agrees to convene appropriate special education meetings when disabled students are suspended from schools for more than a cumulative total of 10 days.
Ms. Johanna Rodriguez, the mother of one of the named students, said: “It is important for parents to speak up. We need to advocate for our children, especially if they have disabilities. I am hopeful that Achievement First will do better by children with disabilities, but only time will tell. I want kids with disabilities to have an opportunity to succeed at Achievement First because it is a great school.”
“We are pleased that the Office of Civil Rights will monitor AFHA’s implementation of the mediated agreement until at least March, 2014, or until OCR is satisfied that AFHA has fulfilled the terms of the agreement,” said GHLA Attorney Maria Morelli-Wolfe. “AFHA cooperated with OCR and GHLA to develop a plan for improving educational outcomes for students with disabilities. We are optimistic that as these changes take effect, these students will consistently get the supports they need to learn, to spend more time in the classroom, and to make sustained educational progress.”