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Recent Matters

Through our pro bono practice, Cravath lawyers are making high‑impact contributions that are advancing justice and improving clients’ lives. In 2019, Cravath dedicated more than 36,000 hours to pro bono service. Highlights from recent years include:

Clearing the Path for New Yorkers with Disabilities

On July 23, 2019, Cravath and Disability Rights Advocates (“DRA”) announced that the Honorable Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York approved a historic class action settlement that establishes a comprehensive remedial plan to dramatically improve sidewalk accessibility for New York City’s disability community. The settlement stems from and resolves two separate class action lawsuits filed in 1994 and 2014. Cravath, alongside DRA, represented seven disability rights organizations that signed onto the agreement, which requires a comprehensive citywide survey to identify which corners need curb cuts installed or upgraded, and a comprehensive schedule for completing the necessary work. An outside monitor will oversee the agreement.

A Class‑Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Juvenile Offenders

In 2018, Cravath filed a proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of juvenile offenders sentenced to indeterminate life sentences in New York State. The litigation seeks to reform the state’s parole‑hearing process and end the practice of sentencing young people to de facto life sentences. In a series of recent decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court has established that “juvenile lifers” must be provided with a meaningful and realistic opportunity for release based upon demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation. We allege that through their practices and procedures, the Commissioners of the New York State Board of Parole deny juvenile lifers this meaningful opportunity for release. Since the action was filed, five of those named plaintiffs have been released to parole supervision. The action has received public attention, and was the subject of the lead New York Times editorial, entitled “New York Forgets Its Juvenile Lifers,” in which the Times urged the Board of Parole to give juvenile lifers “a real chance to show they’ve grown up.”

Groundbreaking Work on LGBTQ+ Civil Rights

Cravath filed amicus curiae briefs on behalf of members of Congress in landmark LGBTQ cases in federal courts of appeals across the country. The briefs are in support of several individuals filing LGBTQ civil rights litigation, including an openly gay man who was routinely harassed at work and a transgender boy prohibited from using the boy’s bathroom at his school. The Supreme Court has recently granted certiorari in two of the cases, Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda. The cases present the question whether Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination “because of sex” covers discrimination because of sexual orientation. With a circuit split on the issue (the Seventh Circuit and the Second Circuit agreeing with the EEOC that Title VII protects sexual orientation, and the Eleventh Circuit holding that it does not), the decisions in these cases will significantly impact the way the courts interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Higher Education Act. Cravath filed an amicus curiae brief in this matter on July 3, 2019.

On May 30, 2019, Cravath, Lambda Legal, ACLU and South Carolina Equality Coalition sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and South Carolina for discriminating against same‑sex and other foster parents on the basis of religion The lawsuit asserts that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the HHS Administration for Children and Families, certain HHS officials, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, and the Director of the South Carolina Department of Social Services are violating the Establishment, Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution by authorizing and enabling the use of religious criteria by Miracle Hill, a government-funded foster care agency, to screen out would‑be foster families because of their faith or sexual orientation. Our clients, a married lesbian couple, applied to foster with Miracle Hill and were denied because they failed to meet the agency’s religious criteria, which excluded prospective foster parents who are not evangelical Protestant Christian or who are same‑sex couples of any faith.

Critical Assistance to Individuals Fleeing Persecution

Cravath provides legal assistance to individuals seeking asylum from around the world. Just last year, Cravath won asylum in cases involving political opinion, opposition to female genital mutilation, sexual orientation and HIV status. In addition, Cravath provided legal services to immigrants transferred from federal detention facilities on the border to the Albany County Jail. In partnership with the New York Immigration Coalition, Cravath organized a group of lawyers to go to Albany and meet with individual detainees to prepare them for their credible or reasonable fear interviews. Also, in response to ongoing family separations at the border, Cravath partnered with the Immigration Justice Campaign to help reunite families detained in the El Paso, Texas region.

Protecting the Rights of Children in Foster Care

Cravath, with co‑counsel from A Better Childhood, Inc., represents a group of 19 children who have spent time in foster care in New York City, on behalf of a putative class of similarly situated children. The lawsuit alleges systemic deficiencies in New York City’s foster care system, including defendants’ failure to oversee the voluntary agencies that provide foster care in NYC, resulting in maltreatment of children at an alarming rate. Plaintiffs bring constitutional and statutory claims. In 2016, the court denied in part the City defendant’s motion to dismiss, holding that certain provisions of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act are privately enforceable by Plaintiffs. More recently, Cravath won motions on two key procedural issues, prevailing against a partial motion for summary judgment and a motion to dismiss adult “next friends” bringing suit on behalf of Plaintiffs. Cravath has taken extensive discovery in support of a class certification motion to be filed in 2019.

Safe Haven for Sick Children: Children’s Hospital Program

In 2002, Cravath formed an interdisciplinary team with doctors and social workers at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx and Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York‑Presbyterian in Manhattan to address the needs of children and their families. We have handled almost 400 cases ranging from obtaining a humanitarian visa to negotiating housing needs and public assistance to facilitating special education—legal issues that directly affect children’s medical conditions.

Protecting Prisoners’ Rights

Cravath represented a former inmate in a federal civil rights suit, together with the Legal Aid Society. Our client, “Jane Doe,” was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by two New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) officers while she was a pre‑trial detainee on Rikers Island. Because our client preserved physical evidence, one of the DOC officers was convicted of a criminal sex act, a felony charge. We filed the civil lawsuit in August 2018 against the City of New York and the DOC Officers, in both their individual and official capacities. Cravath assisted the client in reaching a substantial monetary settlement.

International Child Custody Case

On March 5, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Cravath client, Diana Montoya Alvarez, in an international custody dispute which made new law regarding application of equitable tolling to treaties in general and in particular to the “now settled” defense to a child’s return to her home country under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Cravath took the case as part of the pro bono work it regularly provides for Sanctuary for Families.

Landmark Homeless Families Litigation

In 2008, Cravath won a landmark settlement on behalf of homeless families with children. In this settlement, New York City finally acknowledged, after 25 years of litigation, that homeless families have a state constitutional right to shelter, and has agreed to an enforceable judgment that sets the legal parameters for emergency shelter for homeless people. A team of Cravath and Legal Aid Society attorneys achieved this landmark judgment. In honor of this important work, the Legal Aid Society presented Cravath with the 2008 Pro Bono Publico and Public Service Law Firm Award. Additionally, 15 Cravath partners, associates and legal assistants received individual awards in recognition of their contributions to this matter.

School Partnership

In 2004, we sponsored and helped create a law‑themed public high school, the School for Law & Justice (SLJ), as a partner with The Urban Assembly, a groundbreaking organization that is rethinking and reorganizing inner‑city education in New York. SLJ graduated its first class in 2008, and in 2009 was ranked as the #1 unscreened high school in New York City by The New York Post. Our lawyers helped create the curriculum and continue to remain active in school life. They act as mentors to SLJ students, teach SAT preparation classes, judge moot court competitions and participate in the Lunch with Lawyers program - a discussion group on current events and issues. We also helped form the Adams Street Foundation (ASF), a 501(c)(3) corporation that uses funding from foundations and other sources to provide enrichment programs, summer internships and educational activities for SLJ students. One of our partners is on the ASF Board.

Representation to Individuals in Need

Cravath associates provide outstanding legal representation to individuals who do not have the means to hire counsel. In recent years they have:

  • Obtained a six‑figure settlement and career resumption for a U.S. Postal Service worker who had faced racial discrimination and wrongful termination
  • Reinstated Social Security benefits for a child with disabilities whose payments had been rescinded
  • Facilitated the release of a prison inmate from solitary confinement, after he was wrongfully blamed for an incident in which corrections officers assaulted him
  • Successfully defended a domestic violence survivor fighting vexatious litigation from her abusive ex‑boyfriend
  • Obtained a substantial settlement for a worker with disabilities whose employer refused to restore her job after she returned from medical leave
  • Convinced a judge to appoint their client as the executor of a grossly mismanaged estate
  • Secured a travel visa for a child to come to the United States to be able to donate bone marrow to their sibling
  • Helped a mother recover her deceased son’s wrongfully terminated benefits
  • Secured a fixed automatic‑payment plan for a single mother whose ex‑husband had stopped paying child support
  • Represented Muslim victims of hate crimes in civil litigation

Corporate Advice to Non‑Profit and Charitable Organizations

In addition to representing individual pro bono clients, associates also provide a wide range of free legal services to non-profit and charitable organizations. Recently they have:

  • Provided governance advice to a non‑profit dedicated to helping youth aging out of the foster care system
  • Helped incorporate a yoga non‑profit that offers free yoga classes to New Yorkers in underserved communities
  • Represented a community‑development organization in contract negotiations with a larger, more powerful entity
  • Created a template contract for an education non‑profit to use in its agreements with contributors, collaborators and clients
  • Provided transactional advice to non‑profit organizations that provide services in developing countries
  • Facilitated the consolidation of two charitable organizations that work on behalf of military personnel and their families
  • Provided financing advice to a foundation that addresses the needs of orphans around the world by providing education, medical care and psycho‑social services
  • Helped incorporate a non‑profit that promotes awareness of pediatric organ donation issues and funds related medical research
  • Provided general corporate advice to a non‑profit that connects artists to charitable causes
  • Provided real estate advice to an economic development organization that provides advocacy and services to businesses in Brooklyn neighborhoods to grow and create employment opportunities for local residents
  • Helped incorporate a non‑profit that offers innovative solutions for women and girls living with obstetric fistula in sub‑Saharan Africa
  • Negotiated a subcontract between a non‑profit and an architecture and urban design firm to explore multi‑scale, physical, and programmatic interventions to create safe neighborhoods within New York City