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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 

Jessica Schneider posted a blog on Feb 18, 2015

Join us for CLC's Fair Housing Project Fair Housing Month Event on April 2nd!

RSVP by March 23rd to jschneider@clccrul.org  

The Greens is a 20-minute personal journey documentary that begins when a white college kid sits in a black barber's chair. They journey through time, back into the contentious memory of Chicago's "most notorious" housing project, Cabrini Green, where they confront their deepest assumptions about the neighborhood, its residents, violence, and the possibility of finding common ground.

The Greens is a documentary film screening and discussion with the filmmakers that challenges audiences to think critically about mainstream media narratives and the ways they shape popular perception of race and space in urban America. Sam and Teddy have a unique approach. Teddy, the barber, speaks from lived experience; he grew up in Cabrini-Green and spent most of his life there. Sam, the college kid,  relies on extensive historiographical and sociological research from his graduate work at the University of Oxford, where he wrote a dissertation on the rise of mass incarceration and the fall of high rise public housing.

More information at www.thegreensdocumentary.com

Clara Kent posted a blog on Feb 12, 2015

Youth of Chicago Get to Ask the Big Questions

Last night the youth of Chicago came together for a youth-led mayoral candidate forum called Youth Speaks! at the Chicago History Museum. Chicago Lawyers' Committee Staff Attorney Candace Moore, with the Educational Equity Project, spoke yesterday morning on WBEZ's Morning Shift about her role in supporting these youth and the mayoral candidate forum. To hear her interview, click here

From WBEZ:

Chicago's youth will have a turn to express their vision for the city to mayoral candidates Wednesday at the Chicago History Museum. "Youth Speaks," comprises the only young person led mayoral Q and A and aims to unite Chicago people both young and old in addressing the city's hard hitting issues of social, economic and racial justice. Carlil Pittman an organizer for Southwest Organizing Project and young voter joins us along with Candace Moore of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law with more. 

Clara Kent posted a blog on Jan 22, 2015

City Agrees to New Policy Towards Homeless People’s Personal Property Rights

A new Chicago policy governing the treatment of homeless people and their personal possessions is going into effect.  The policy is the successful result of legal work performed by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (CLC), working with and for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and by pro bono volunteer attorneys Matt Piers and Claudia Flores from CLC member  firm Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, Ltd.

Until recently, homeless people in the Lower Wacker Drive area of downtown Chicago have been subject to sweeps by the Chicago Police Department and Streets and Sanitation workers.  The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless began work on the problem in 2013 after hearing repeated reports from homeless individuals that they were losing important possessions when they were rousted by police and Streets and Sanitation workers.  Dozens of homeless people described being told to move and could only take those things they could carry at the time; whatever they couldn’t carry got thrown in a garbage truck and destroyed.  People lost the basic things they need to survive out of doors – coats, blankets, boots, and clothing – as well as personal items like identification papers and prescription medication. 

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless sought help from  the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for help and CLC, in turn, recruited pro bono attorneys from Hughes, Socol.  Together, they prepared a draft complaint, which they shared with City attorneys to see if the case could be resolved without litigation.  Seventeen individual homeless people whose personal possessions were taken were listed as potential named plaintiffs. 

After extended discussions, an agreement was reached on January 9, 2015, that commits the City to limit the seizure and destruction of homeless people’s personal property. 

Under the agreement, homeless people in the Lower Wacker Drive area will be given advance notice before the City comes in to clean their area.  The new City policy states “Unless the homeless individuals encountered during the cleanings are trespassing or obstructing the public way, the City will not force them to move from their location.  Individuals may keep in their possession, without disturbance, a sleeping bag or bedroll, up to five blankets, boots or shoes, and up to three bags or suitcases full of possessions.  In an important provision, the City agrees that the homeless person does not have to be personally present to claim and protect his (or her) property – a friend on the spot can preserve it. Furthermore, unattended personal property will no longer be immediately thrown away, but will be tagged with a warning and not discarded unless it is still unattended the following week.

In addition, the City agrees to provide intensive case management to the seventeen claimants in the coming year in accessing social support services as drug and alcohol treatment, job training, and access to long-term housing.  The new policy also provides that contact with homeless people during street cleaning will be led by the City’s Department of Family Support Services, which will provide information about shelter, housing programs, and supportive services. 

The City’s new policy also applies to homeless persons in the Wilson Avenue viaduct area, and may be extended to other areas in the future.

The bargaining position of the representatives for the homeless was strengthened by a relatively new Illinois law, the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act.  That law provides that a person experiencing homelessness has “the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.”

For further information call Paul Strauss, Co-Director of Litigation at the Lawyers’ Committee, (312) 202-3649 or send an e-mail to him at pstrauss@clccrul.org.