Source: The New York Times

New York City has quietly reached settlements with several plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that the city’s trespassing-enforcement policies in public housing complexes are discriminatory and unlawful, lawyers and others said this week.

Eleanor Britt, 63, of the Taft Houses rejected a city offer to settle her claims as part of a class-action lawsuit.

Of the 16 claimants originally named in the lawsuit, which was filed in January 2010, nine have agreed to settle, according to court papers, city officials and lawyers involved in the case. The city made its offers in October and December and is in the process of paying a total of slightly more than $170,000, with individual payments ranging from $5,000 to $75,000, said a spokesman for the comptroller’s office.

The lawsuit, filed in United States District Court in Manhattan, claims that residents of public housing complexes, as well as their visitors, are subjected to police aggression and unwarranted trespass stops and arrests. Both stops and arrests have increased substantially between 2004 and 2008, the plaintiffs say. The suit also contends that the city’s enforcement tactics are aimed at minority-dominated communities and, therefore, violate equal protection rights.

“You could not imagine this practice going on in many of the white neighborhoods of the city,” said William D. Gibney, director of the special litigation unit for the Legal Aid Society.

Despite the settlements, the suit, filed by the Legal Aid Society, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, is continuing, with depositions set for “the next few weeks,” said Johanna B. Steinberg, a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense fund.

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