On July 6, 2004, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a motion in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York asking the Court to allow nine Black and Latino individuals to intervene to protect their rights as custodians in the New York City public schools. The nine were given benefits under an earlier court-approved settlement of the case because they had been identified as victims of the Board of Education’s discriminatory hiring practices. LDF’s clients now stand to lose all of the remedies granted under the terms of the settlement reached nearly five years ago, including their permanent employment status, their seniority, and ultimately their jobs.
The case began in 1996, when the United States Department of Justice sued the Board of Education, alleging discrimination against Black, Latino, Asian and women school custodians in the Board of Education’s hiring of custodians. The Board settled with the Justice Department in 1999, agreeing to give permanent positions with retroactive seniority to those affected by the discriminatory hiring practices.
A group of white custodians then challenged the lawfulness of the settlement, claiming that it discriminated against white men. In September 2003, the Justice Department sent the court proposed revisions that would significantly water down the remedies outlined in the settlement agreement, signaling that the government was not willing to defend the remedies it had previously negotiated for the Black, Latino and women victims of the Board’s employment discrimination.
At a status conference with the court on July 9, the motion to intervene was granted, allowing LDF to participate in the case by presenting factual evidence and legal arguments in support of the lawfulness of the settlement. LDF believes that the suit is important not only to the individuals involved, but also to vindicate the lawfulness of race-conscious relief in the settlement of employment discrimination claims.
“This case is of crucial importance not only to our clients but also to Title VII plaintiffs more generally,” said LDF Assistant Counsel Matthew Colangelo. “The challenge to the remedies our clients received in the settlement agreement is part of a broader effort to undermine the adverse impact standard of discrimination, which has been a firmly established part of employment discrimination law for over three decades.”
The ACLU Women’s Rights Project previously intervened in the case on behalf of a separate group of custodians who were included in the settlement agreement.