Civil Rights, Human Rights, Workplace Rights

Lieff Cabraser’s Work Advancing Civil Rights and Social Justice

Since its founding in 1972, Lieff Cabraser has dedicated its practice to challenging institutional misconduct and helping advance social justice. As the firm has grown, so has its docket of cases. For three decades, Lieff Cabraser has maintained a dedicated practice focused on racial and gender equity, and employment civil rights. In particular, Lieff Cabraser’s Civil Rights and Social Justice Practice Group prosecutes cases challenging systemic inequality and historic exclusion. Lieff Cabraser has represented Black and Latinx clients seeking to protect voting rights in Texas; South Asian, South American, and Mexican clients challenging alleged labor trafficking, wage theft, or workplace exploitation in the United States; and unaccompanied refugee and migrant children seeking asylum. The firm has a dedicated practice representing Native American tribes, Alaskan Native villages, and Tribal health organizations in litigation challenging misconduct directed toward tribal communities. Lieff Cabraser has secured classwide settlements for alleged workplace racial bias at companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, Best Buy, Fed Ex, Kaiser Permanente, and Morgan Stanley, and successfully represented numerous Black professionals seeking to redress exclusion and racial trauma at work.

Lieff Cabraser proudly provides free legal representation to numerous economically disadvantaged clients every year. The firm has also represented scores of pro bono clients in amicus advocacy before the U.S. Supreme Court and in appellate courts across the country, including over the past five years regarding: the Muslim Ban executive order (2017), low-wage warehouse workers exposed to Covid (2020), attacks on public school funding by the US Department of Education (2020), the power of the N-word to create an unsafe and hostile work environment (2021), and race-conscious college admissions (2022), as well as in a string of cases involving racial and gender diversity on corporate boards, and those seeking to protect transgender people from harassment and abuse, among others.

Lieff Cabraser applies its interdisciplinary expertise to address wrongdoing that implicates civil rights issues beyond the traditional civil rights laws, including alleged consumer frauds (redlining and predatory lending), corporate monopolies and conspiracies (alleged price-gouging of renters, price-fixing of employee wages, and overcharging for services disproportionately affecting economically disadvantaged people including in the provision of bail bonds and critical medicines needed by seniors and patients with HIV, among others), DEI-related stock frauds (allegedly through misleading investors and retirement funds about corporate commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion), and subjecting vulnerable communities to allegedly unsafe products (including opioids and bovine milk formula).

Lieff Cabraser believes in advancing justice through longstanding commitments to organizations and community groups, and its lawyers have served on Boards and committees of many non-profits, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Anti-Defamation League, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, East Bay Community Law Center, Equal Justice Society, Equal Justice Works, Equal Rights Advocates, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Human Rights Watch, the Justice & Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Legal Aid at Work, Legal Alliance for Reproductive Rights, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, New York Civil Liberties Union, Public Justice, and the Tennessee Innocence Project. The firm and its lawyers annually support a variety of national and local civil rights organizations, including those in particular that are led by Black women and women of color.

21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

In January of 2020, Lieff Cabraser began a multi-year process of intensive self-education around diversity, equity, and inclusion. As part of that work, the firm identified the framework of diversity expert, Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr., as offering a sustained, immersive opportunity for reflection, and the firm created its own learning syllabus consistent with the concepts of Dr. Moore’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge©. This Challenge invites participants to develop their own syllabus of 21 short daily assignments (essays, podcasts, videos, etc.) to enhance their depth of understanding around the intersections of power, privilege, supremacy, equity, and race. Lieff Cabraser’s team developed and curated their syllabus to focus on the experiences of Black Americans, with the understanding that any 21-day project would necessarily only touch the surface of any community’s experiences and opinions, and also would not be a substitute for learning about the separate histories, joys, and challenges of other communities of color. After an initial pilot of 19 attorneys and staff completed the project, Lieff Cabraser offered the syllabus firm-wide as a tool for all of Lieff Cabraser to expand awareness, compassion, and active engagement in the quest for racial equity.

Since then, the firm’s 21-day syllabus has been shared widely outside of our firm, resulting in interest and outreach from General Counsels at some of the biggest companies in the US, leading corporate diversity and inclusion professionals, top union leaders, and all variety of lawyers in private practice. The firm has since curated other 21-day programs and activities. After the murder of George Floyd, the governing Council of the American Bar Association Labor & Employment Law Section substantially adopted the firm’s 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge© syllabus, and urged its members and stakeholders to complete it, resulting in what the Section has described as one of the Section’s most successful and broad-reaching campaigns ever, ultimately reaching tens of thousands in the United States and abroad:

(Note: The 21-Day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge © is the registered copyright of America & Moore, LLC. 2014.)

Lieff Cabraser in the Community

Lieff Cabraser also believes in volunteer engagement outside of the courtroom to advance equity in our communities. Every year, Lieff Cabraser attorneys and staff participate in a wide variety of local volunteer projects, from food banks to toy drives, but also in more intensive and sustained projects. As one example, beginning in 2007, Lieff Cabraser attorneys and staff founded a project to provide on-site trauma therapy for children and their families to address the impacts of neighborhood violence and generational trauma on elementary school students in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood. In partnership with specialized trauma therapists at UCSF/SF General Hospital, the program, “Carver Hearts” (Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools), was based at Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School. At the time of the project’s founding, Carver had the highest foster care population and among the lowest family income in the SF Unified School District (SFUSD). Almost all of the roughly 265 children were African American. The neighborhood surrounding Carver had long been overlooked for services and investment. After the SF Naval Shipyard (to which the Hunters Point area was adjacent) became deactivated in 1974, the area became ever more vulnerable to drugs, violence, and hopelessness arising from the lack of economic opportunity.

After Lieff Cabraser attorneys and staff, along with friends and colleagues from outside the firm, funded this program for several years, the project gained credibility with the SFUSD. By 2012, SFUSD covered 100% of the HEARTS budget (under the name “UCSF Hearts”), and expanded the project to other SFUSD elementary and middle school campuses. By 2016, UCSF advised us that the Carver HEARTS training was being broadly disseminated across SFUSD, that it had inspired the seven-county Bay Area Regional Trauma Informed Systems Center, and that “Carver HEARTS…is being replicated in other States.” In October 2016, President Obama invited UCSF Hearts to the White House as a featured speaker on the launch of a national campaign addressing child trauma.

“Good Ally” Project & Symposium

Immediately after the 2016 election, Lieff Cabraser attorneys conceived and coordinated the enormously successful national rapid response conference, “How to be a Good Ally”, attended by 1,300 legal professionals. The day-long conference in January 2017 featured scores of California and national non-profit organizations and leaders discussing key issues and strategies to fight back in the areas of criminalization of communities of color, government targeting of Muslims, attacks on immigrants and the undocumented, hate crimes and Anti-Semitism, domestic violence and sexual assault, healthcare for people with disabilities and medical vulnerabilities, backlash against the LGBT community, reproductive access, worker rights, and environmental justice. The speakers included many luminaries, such as the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, Charles Blow, Noreen Farrell, Kate Kendell, Farhana Khera, Dahlia Lithwick, Rashad Robinson, Thomas Saenz, and Oren Segal.

Lieff Cabraser Cases

A full resume of cases may be found here. In addition, below are some representative cases:

Environmental Justice (Michigan and Mississippi water cases)

Lieff Cabraser is at the forefront of litigation challenging what is sadly a pervasive problem in this country: lead and other contaminants poisoning the public water supply in economically disadvantaged and majority-Black cities. In September 2022, Lieff Cabraser filed the first class action lawsuit in the U.S. on behalf of the residents of Jackson, Mississippi over the alleged neglect, mismanagement, and maintenance failures that led to an environmental catastrophe leaving over 153,000 Jackson-area residents, most of whom are Black, without access to safe running water. The lawsuit seeks immediate injunctive relief, including the removal and remediation of lead pipes and fixtures, an adequate water supply delivered to each home until the water supply is safe for consumption, and an injunction to stop all residents from paying for the contaminated water, as well as compensatory, punitive, and exemplary damages. Similarly, in November 2022, Lieff Cabraser was appointed co-lead counsel in litigation against the State of Michigan regarding lead and other contaminants allegedly poisoning the public water supply in Benton Harbor, a majority-Black city, causing severe harm to its residents.

Representing the Most Economically Marginalized (CARES Act Prison Case)

In August 2020, Lieff Cabraser and the Equal Justice Society filed Scholl v. Mnuchin, et al., a lawsuit challenging the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department’s improper withholding of CARES Act stimulus funds from over 1.5 million incarcerated Americans and their families. In October 2020, United States District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton certified a class and entered a permanent injunction stopping the government misconduct. As a result of this case, Class members were able to secure over $1.5 billion in critically needed economic assistance for themselves and their families, making this one of the largest recoveries ever on behalf of a purposefully disenfranchised group through a single lawsuit.

Auto Financing Redlining

In cases filed in Tennessee and California, Lieff Cabraser with co-counsel represented African American and Latinx customers who alleged they were charged less favorable rates and terms for automobile financing by WFS Financial, American Honda Finance Corporation, and Toyota Motor Credit Corporation. The cases resolved for over $150 million and substantial changes in the way the companies sell automobile finance contracts.

Race Discrimination in Employment

Lieff Cabraser has filed numerous race discrimination class actions against employers, including a class action for African American, Latinx, and Asian American employees challenging the allegedly racist “look policy” of Abercrombie & Fitch. Lieff Cabraser prosecuted the case with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and other firms. The case settled for $50 million and business changes to promote diversity and prevent discrimination.

Criminal Justice Pro Bono (Overturning Outrageous Wrongful Conviction in New Orleans)

Along with co-counsel, Lieff Cabraser represented Yutico Briley, who was convicted in 2013 of armed robbery after allegedly stealing $102 at gunpoint. Yutico was 19 years old at the time, and received a sentence of 60 years without the possibility of parole. From the moment of his arrest, Mr. Briley professed his innocence, pointing to the fact that he was in a hotel room across town during the time of the robbery. The State’s case was weak, consisting of a cross-racial (white victim, Black suspect) “show-up” identification (meaning the victim was shown only one suspect to choose from). The white victim’s description of the assailant’s build and skin tone did not match Mr. Briley, but the cases rested on the fact that Mr. Briley was African American and wore a hoody. After Lieff Cabraser got involved years later and successfully petitioned for the conviction to be overturned in 2020, the District Attorney reviewing the case stated in part: “We believe his case demonstrates multiple failures of the criminal legal system that have been far too common in the typically brief trials of young Black men in Orleans Parish. It is an injustice that needs to be rectified as promptly as possible.” The judge granting the relief likewise concluded: “The criminal legal system unquestionably failed Mr. Briley. It also failed the victim of this crime, and it failed the City of New Orleans.”

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