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Clara Kent posted a blog on May 28, 2015

CLCCRUL Settles Federal Disability Discrimination Lawsuit against Edgewater Condominium Association

Chicago, IL,  May 28, 2015 – The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., in partnership with Reed Smith LLP, settled a federal fair housing discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Kimberly Katz and Kenneth Payne against Kane Property Management Corporation, Brandon Shores Condominium Association, and Marilynn Wharton.

Plaintiff Kimberly Katz has osteoarthritis, an ACL tear, a torn meniscus in her right knee, and neuropathic pain syndrome, which makes it difficult for her to maneuver in tight spaces. As a result, Ms. Katz requires a handicap accessible parking spot so that she can safely enter and exit her car and walk to her home in the Brandon Shores Condominium Building.

The lawsuit alleged that, even though Ms. Katz is disabled and unable to use her deeded parking spot because it is flanked by a cement wall on one side and a tall gate on the other, the defendants refused to provide her a reasonable accommodation after multiple requests for an accessible parking spot.  Also, when Ms. Katz attempted to make private agreements to obtain an accessible parking spot on her own, the defendants actively interfered with her efforts. The lawsuit alleged that Brandon Shores Condominium Association’s President, Marilyn Wharton would monitor the parking lot and refuse to allow Ms. Katz to use another tenant’s parking space, even though Ms. Katz had made an oral agreement with this tenant to park in the space.

The lawsuit further alleged that the defendants intentionally and willfully refused to reasonably accommodate Ms. Katz’s handicap and thus, denying  her equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. Without a handicap accessible parking space, Ms. Katz had extreme difficulty getting from her car to her condo. She suffered physical and emotional injuries. Ms. Katz’s rights to fair housing were violated as she had been deprived of the ability to use and enjoy her dwelling in the same manner as non-handicapped individuals.

“We are pleased with the terms of the settlement which provides a designated handicapped parking space for Ms. Katz and any other disabled persons, as well as monetary damages in the amount of $38,000.00," states Chicago Lawyers’ Committee Fair Housing attorney, Danielle McCain.  The defendants are also required require to attend fair housing training and adopt new rules to govern how they respond to reasonable accommodation requests.

Kimberly Katz and Kenneth Payne were represented by Reed Smith’s pro bono attorneys, Casey L. Westover and Jillian L. Burstein, as well as Danielle McCain and Jessica Schneider, staff attorneys for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee.

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The focus of Reed Smith’s pro bono work is on aiding people of limited means, assisting charities with their legal needs, and championing important legal and human rights. Reed Smith’s pro bono work has received much acclaim and recognition for its services to the underprivileged.

Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. protects and promotes civil rights by bringing the strength and prestige of the private bar to bear on the problems of poverty and discrimination. The Committee champions equal justice and community development for underrepresented people by partnering with volunteer lawyers to provide litigation and transactional representation. The Fair Housing Project works to eliminate housing discrimination and promote fair and equal housing in the Chicago metropolitan area through legal representation, education, and advocacy. For more information, visit www.clccrul.org .

Clara Kent posted a blog on May 19, 2015

Join our Fair Housing Project!

We are looking for a full-time National Volunteer Service position with AmeriCorps to start in August, that includes a monthly stipend and some other benefits. The VISTA will work on outreach and media for our fair housing project. For more information on the position and to apply CLICK HERE.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Apr 20, 2015

Landmark Report Finds People of Color in Illinois Significantly Underrepresented in Local Government

A first-of-its-kind report in Illinois has uncovered widespread underrepresentation of communities of color in local government jurisdictions, including 13 that could potentially face litigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The report released today provides a detailed look at which counties, municipalities and school districts under represent minority citizens, and the potential consequences when governing bodies are not nearly as diverse as the populations they serve. The study goes on to recommend election system remedies better suited for Illinois’ increasingly diverse communities.

“This study makes it clear as day that voting rights need to be protected in northern as well as southern states and that minority underrepresentation is a contemporary problem that needs contemporary solutions,”said Jay Readey, Executive Director of Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc., which co-authored the report.

“Selma may have been 50 years ago, but people of color are still not equitably represented in local government and the solutions we currently use to address underrepresentation are no longer suitable,” Readey said.

The report found that the vast majority (85%) of the 237 Illinois municipalities, county governments and school districts studied under represent people of color in relation to their percentage of population. And 38 jurisdictions have what the report termed “severe underrepresentation,” with a sufficiently large minority population that, if voting cohesively and using an appropriate election system, could elect at least one additional candidate of its choice.

Joining the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee in developing the report were the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago. The report was funded by the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, which invests in policy solutions to economic and social challenges that affect quality of life, community vitality and social equity.

The report studied demographics of communities and representative bodies for counties, cities and school boards with significant minority populations. A full list of the jurisdictions examined can be found at www.colorofrepresentation.org.

"This report sheds light on a serious problem in Illinois and offers solutions to strengthen our communities' representation,” said Jorge Sanchez, Senior Litigator with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Underrepresentation in local government can significantly affect decisions on matters such as how public resources are distributed and how many people of color are hired as public employees. These decisions have a direct impact on citizens’ lives, affecting everything from public education funding patterns to criminal justice to housing policy.”

“We are especially pleased at the modern perspective this report takes to voting rights that moves beyond drawing districts and instead explores innovative solutions that wastes less votes and allows smaller communities to have their voice heard in a fair system of representation,” said Kathleen Yang-Clayton, Director of Policy and Programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Chicago.

To address underrepresentation, local governments can adopt election systems better suited for racially diverse communities. Two solutions addressed in the report, cumulative voting and ranked choice voting, can help ensure that minority voting strength is not diluted by electing candidates in proportion to their support from the community. Conversely, in an at-large, winner-take-all voting system, 51 percent of the voters control 100 percent of the representation.

The traditional remedy for underrepresentation has been creation of single-member districts where a majority of voters are people of color – commonly called “majority minority” districts. But that tactic may not work in jurisdictions where minority populations are spread throughout a community rather than concentrated entirely in certain neighborhoods. In fact, 22 of the 38 jurisdictions found to severely under represent minorities are too integrated to draw a majority-minority district. Cumulative voting or ranked choice voting would be a solution for these jurisdictions to protect and promote minority voting rights.

The report provides advocates and policymakers in Illinois with multiple options for addressing this issue:

•     Local level: Home rule jurisdictions can adopt more equitable election systems, such as cumulative voting or ranked choice voting, through referenda placed on the ballot by a unit of government or through a citizen-led petition drive.

•     State level: The state could adopt a Voting Rights Act, such as one recently enacted in California, requiring fairer representation of communities of color. A state Voting Rights Act would provide additional protections for minority voters and enable minority groups to more easily sue jurisdictions such as some of those highlighted in the new Illinois report.

•     Nationwide: Government and non-government actors could run programs or initiatives to increase local voter turnout and recruit and train people of color to run for local office. Without comparable turnout by people of color to that of white voters, and without minority candidates on the ballot, no election system can ensure that people of color are fairly represented.

“A strong democracy includes political leaders who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. This is critical in ensuring that all voices are heard in government,”said George Cheung, Senior Program Officer at the Joyce Foundation. “We urge policy makers at all levels of government to hear this message and act to lift every voice.”

The organizations that developed the report will soon begin convening advocates across the state to discuss the findings and their implications, and also provide opportunities for raising public awareness and engaging citizen action.

Clara Kent posted a blog on Apr 15, 2015

TLP Client Success Story

The Law Project (TLP) connects volunteer attorneys with nonprofit organizations and entrepreneurs, providing  them with the legal knowledge and resources they need to establish and sustain their businesses. TLP volunteer attorneys represented Greater Englewood CDC in the development of Blue 1647 Greater Englewood. Blue 1647 Greater Englewood has created a food-focused business accelerator, a coworking space and a workforce development center in the U.S. Bank building at 815 W. 63rd Street in the Englewood Community.

This is one of TLP’s many success stories, bringing jobs to and promoting economic development in Chicago’s low-income communities. TLP’s small business legal services helped Greater Englewood partner with Blue 1647 to create change in Englewood and in the lives of the families and individuals within the community. 

To read more about Blue 1647 from the Chicago Tribune, click here

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Clara Kent posted a blog on Mar 31, 2015

Supreme Court issues important new pregnancy discrimination case, Young v. United Parcel Service

By Paul Strauss, Co-Director of Litigation

On March 25, 2015, the Supreme Court issued an important new case protecting the rights to pregnant women to continue working during their pregnancy, in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., No. 12-1226.

In Young, the plaintiff was a UPS driver who, because of her pregnancy, could no longer do the heavy lifting required in her job.  She wanted to be moved into a position with less lifting.  Employees who were injured on the job, or who had disabilities, or who lost their driving license, were moved by the company into lighter-lifting jobs – couldn’t she be as well?  And doesn’t the law require that?  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978) amended Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the basic employment discrimination law, to say that discrimination because of sex means also discrimination because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.   And the Pregnancy Discrimination Act says that:

women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes…as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work….

This language leaves things a bit unclear, however.  Is a person who is not able to do heavy lifting because of an on-the-job injury similar to a woman unable to do heavy lifting because of her pregnancy?

In Young v. United Parcel Service the Court described how a pregnant woman not given light duty, while other categories of employees are, can win.  First, she must show that she is pregnant, she sought an accommodation to do only light work, the employer did not accommodate her, and the employer did accommodate other employees who were not able to do heavy lifting.  The employer may seek to justify its refusal by arguing that it is granting light duty only to those who fit in another category, such as employees who suffered from on-the-job injuries.  Plaintiff can win nonetheless “by providing sufficient evidence that the employer’s policies impose a significant burden on pregnant workers, and that the employer’s `legitimate, nondiscriminatory’ reasons are not sufficiently strong to justify the burden, but rather – when considered along with the burden imposed – give rise to an inference of intentional discrimination.”  The plaintiff can do that “by providing evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of nonpregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.”  In the UPS case plaintiff could win by showing “that UPS accommodates most nonpregnant employees with lifting limitations while categorically failing to accommodate pregnant employees with lifting limitations.”

This formula for deciding cases involving accommodations that are given to some employees, but not to pregnant women, shows great promise.  It is not perfect.  It will not provide relief in all cases.  But it is far better than the position of the Court’s dissenters, who would have provided pregnant women in these circumstances with no opportunity to work whatsoever. 

Clara Kent posted a blog on Mar 26, 2015

The Supreme Court Affirmatively Stands Up for Minority Voting Rights

By Ruth Greenwood, Voting Rights Project Coordinator

The Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday in the case of Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, reversing and remanding a decision that Alabama did not engage in unconstitutional racial gerrymandering when it drew state legislative redistricting plans in 2011.  The Court has previously held that legislators may not use race as the “predominant motivating factor” in redistricting but in ALBC v. Alabama it strengthened that protection by holding that a focus on maintaining a particular numerical minority percentage in a district is evidence of racial gerrymandering.  The Court urged legislators to “take account of all significant circumstances” when assessing whether the minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice is maintained.

The fact that the Voting Rights Act (VRA) was enacted to protect minority voting rights is without question.  What policies protect minority voting rights, however, is a subject of constant debate.  Minority representation may be considered to be protected where people of color can vote; can elect candidates of their choice; are descriptively represented; and/or are substantively represented.  These possible goals are often in tension with one another, and there has been a tendency by Courts, and by those drawing redistricting plans, to revert to seeing people of color as statistics on a map.  The Court’s recognition that math and statistics is not enough to explain or protect the promise of the VRA is is a demonstrably good thing.

Strictly, this was a case about section 5 of the VRA - that now impotent section of the Act that requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination in voting to pre-clear changes in election laws with the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Section 5 currently applies to zero jurisdictions, thanks to the Court’s Shelby County decision in 2013.  Alabama will likely respond to the Court’s findings by re-redistricting, but it won’t have to pre-clear the new plan by the DOJ.  There is a high likelihood that the legislature will dismantle some districts that currently elect the candidates of choice of the black community, and that the legislature will draw the entire map to seek partisan advantage. Though we hope that some day the law will stop these practices, as least the map drawers won’t be able to treat black voters as a problem to be “packed” into as few districts as possible. 

The Court’s decision means that black voters in Alabama will be treated with a little more dignity than before, and it shows that the Court understands that people of color’s involvement in political life is about more than just math. 

Clara Kent posted a blog on Mar 13, 2015

50th Anniversary of LBJ's Voting Rights Act Speech

 

This Sunday, March 15, will mark the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s powerful speech to a joint session of Congress – and to the nation – about the urgent need to pass a voting rights bill to address voting discrimination across the nation. The speech was given a week after “Bloody Sunday” – an event that galvanized the nation around the cause of voting rights for African Americans.

“Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.”

Today we are able to honor the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson who issued a clarion call to Congress 50 years ago to act with bipartisan urgency to pass legislation that would end voting rights discrimination in the United States. The Senate bill was introduced on March 17th and only five months later, on August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act bill into law.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision, which struck down part of the VRA that had required jurisdictions with the worst record on voting discrimination to receive federal approval to make any election change and resulted in new laws that created barriers to the ballot box that disproportionately affect minority citizens, we can see that voting discrimination still persists today and Congress, once again, must come together to restore the protections of the VRA.

Today, the effort to restore the Voting Rights Act continues to have bipartisan support. President George Bush signed the last reauthorization of the VRA in 2006, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner has introduced a bill with Lewis that responds to the Shelby decision. But Congress has taken almost no action to move legislation to restore the VRA.

“There is no constitutional issue here. The command of the Constitution is plain. There is no moral issue. It is wrong--deadly wrong--to deny any of your fellow Americans the right to vote in this country. There is no issue of States rights or national rights. There is only the struggle for human rights.”

Clara Kent posted a blog on Mar 6, 2015

Ferguson Report Shows Rampant Racial Bias

The United States Department of Justice has issued a scathing review of the Ferguson Police Department, showing that the City, its Court, and its Police Department used arrests and prosecutions to generate revenue for the City by systematically discriminating against African-Americans and violating their legal rights.  The report shows how far we have to go in this country to produce anything close to racial equality.  It should be read along with academic research that shows that Americans automatically, and in many instances unconsciously, associate black men with crime and crime with black men and that police officers are more likely to shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man.  As the DOJ report describes, the Ferguson Police Department needs to be dramatically reformed – but so do police departments across the country, and so does our society as a whole.  It is well-known that African-Americans do not have equal access to quality schools, neighborhoods, jobs, pay, and medical care.  Across the country we see inequality of opportunity and outcomes.  We now have the absurd and disheartening situation where more black men today are incarcerated than were slaves in 1850.  That is a sign of a sick society.  It is time for change.

To read the report, Click Here.

Written by: Paul Strauss

Contact: pstrauss@clccrul.org

Clara Kent posted a blog on Mar 2, 2015

Selma or Bust!

Sunday, March 8th is the Official 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In celebration of this momentous anniversary, twelve of our staff members will be taking a road trip to Selma, Alabama to partake in several commemorative events. Staff will be representing several Chicago Lawyers’ Committee project areas including voting rights, housing, education, health disparities, hate crimes and community economic development.

As many of the participating staff members are young, this trip will be significant for them to truly understand the Civil Rights moment in the 1960s and the effort and passion that activists put into the movement during this crucial time period. The weekend will involve many events, one of which is the Freedom Flame Awards, honoring the women and men who have contributed to the tremendous legacy of the fight for voting rights and social and economic justice. 

For more information on the event, please visit Selma's 50th Anniversary website.

Please consider donating to this important weekend and to helping our staff truly understand the historical background of the work that the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee still does today.  You can CLICK HERE to donate. 

Clara Kent posted a blog on Feb 18, 2015

Segregation In Chicago Neighborhoods

A letter from CLC's Director of Fair Housing Betsy Shuman-Moore to the Chicago Reader Editors in response to their story titled Still Separate, Unequal, and Ignored:

To the Chicago Reader Editors:

Thank you, Steve Bogira, Mick Dumke, and the Reader for continuing to spotlight and detail Chicago’s persistent, harmful neighborhood segregation and the need for the Mayor and others to address it, in your recent story “Still Separate, Unequal, and Ignored.”  http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/still-separate-unequal-and-ignored/Content?oid=16347785

As you pointed out so well, hypersegregation in housing underlies so many of our city’s problems. Where you live largely determines quality of schools, health, crime, and economic development. The City and others can and should do more to address this continuing situation.

The Fair Housing Project of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights works to eliminate housing discrimination and segregation and promote fair and equal housing in the Chicago metropolitan area through pro bono legal representation, education, and advocacy.

Under federal, state, county, and city laws, it is illegal to discriminate in housing based on race,  national origin, religion, disability, gender, familial status, sexual orientation and source of income, among other classes. Discrimination against people who have Housing Choice Vouchers, formerly called Section 8, has been outlawed by City ordinance for 20 years, to the City’s great credit. The Cook County Board, led by Commissioner and mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, amended the County’s fair housing ordinance in 2013 to make that the law throughout the county. CLC was pleased to partner with him in that effort. However, as your story said, a Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights study found continued widespread discrimination against these tenants in 2010 and 2011, among other things. More needs to be done.

One important thing the City is doing right now is conducting an “Analysis of Impediments of Fair Housing Choice,” which is examining the current landscape and will make recommendations for change.  The City should adequately fund the Chicago Commission on Human Relations to both promptly adjudicate discrimination complaints and deploy ample staff to educate residents and housing industry actors about civil rights and remedies.  It should also fund fair housing testing to identify and root out discriminatory practices.  Landlords and other housing actors also need to identify and eliminate discrimination.  The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee looks forward to working with the City to break down our segregated living patterns.

Very truly yours,

Betsy Shuman-Moore

Director, Fair Housing and Hate Crime Projects