News & Media

Banneker Bests School Without Walls by 1 Point in DC High School Mock Trial

In the closest DC-wide Street Law high school Mock Trial tournament final in its 45-year history, Banneker Academic High School won by one point over School Without Walls High School on Tuesday evening, April 11. In addition to Georgetown Law students who teach the Street Law classes, attorney mentors from Kaiser Permanente coached the Banneker team, and mentors from Fried Frank coached the School Without Walls team. The Public Education Project of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee coordinated all of the attorney mentors from 13 firms and organizations for 292 students on 30 teams at 12 DC high schools that competed in the three-round tournament this year.  Many of the mentors help law students throughout the year to teach the Street Law course, which surveys civil rights, consumer, family and criminal law for the first part of the year, and then culminates in more than two months of preparation for the Mock Trial. The mentor firms and organizations often also arrange field trips to their offices and courts, in addition to the trips to the law school the students take as a part of the class.

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Watch Committee Staff Attorney Catherine Cone Discuss Gentrification and Affordable Housing on a Panel Sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild Washington College of Law’s Chapter

On April 13, 2017, Fair Housing Project Staff Attorney Catherine Cone participated in a gentrification and affordable housing panel sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild Washington College of Law’s Chapter. The panel discussed the history and context of gentrification in the District and its effect on displacement and homelessness of families. In particular, Catherine discussed how fair housing provides a lens through which to view and challenge discriminatory practices that often arise when properties are redeveloping. She and co-panelists Dominic Moulden, Resource Organizer for ONE DC, and Professor Michael Diamond, Director of the Harrison Institute for Housing and Community Development at the Law Center at Georgetown Law, also offered tools to preserve affordable housing and combat discriminatory practices.

The panel can be accessed here

Committee Executive Director Jonathan Smith Urges DC Council Chairman to Move Language Access Bill Forward to a Vote

The Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2017 enables the DC Office of Human Rights to impose a monetary fine on DC government agencies that violate the Language Access Act of 2004. The 2004 Act requires DC agencies to provide interpretation in all languages in order to serve limited- and non-English proficient customers when bilingual employees are not available, and to translate vital documents into certain languages so that these customers can understand and participate in government services. However, the 2004 Act does not provide any remedies for residents whose rights are violated.

We believe that once agencies face potential monetary consequences for failure to comply with the law, they will take steps to ensure that customers do receive the language access they deserve, finally realizing the Council’s original intent in passing the 2004 law. That is why our ED Jonathan Smith has called on DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to continue to take steps so that the Language Access for Education Amendment Act of 2017 can move forward in the D.C. Council and reach a vote.

Read Jon’s letter here...

Merger of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs and the D.C. Employment Justice Center

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs is thrilled to announce our merger with the D.C. Employment Justice Center. From its inception in 1968, the mission of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee has been to provide legal assistance to individuals and communities who experience violations of their civil rights, including issues of economic injustice. The Employment Justice Center, founded on Labor Day 2000, has as its mission to secure, protect and promote workplace justice in the District of Columbia metropolitan area.

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Property Manager's Refusal to Rent to District Voucher Holders is Unlawful Discrimination

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, DC – The Equal Rights Center (ERC), a civil rights organization that seeks to promote equal opportunity in housing, filed a lawsuit today against The Lenkin Company Management, Inc., a residential property management firm, and related entities for violating the D.C. Human Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act for discriminatory rental practices.

Lenkin has unlawfully refused to rent available units in properties located in the Northwest quadrant of the District—The Lencshire House, The Yorkshire, The Parkhill, and The Garfield House—to recipients of Housing Choice Vouchers. Housing Choice Vouchers are subsidies designed to help low-income individuals and families obtain housing by permitting individuals to offset a portion of their rent with a voucher. Administered by local authorities as part of a larger federal program, the Housing Choice Voucher program (“Program”) was designed to permit low-income individuals and families to obtain housing outside of areas of concentrated poverty so as to obtain greater access to quality economic and educational opportunities. However, in the District, the majority of Voucher holders reside in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poverty. Lenkin’s refusal to make its properties available to Voucher holders thwarts the underlying goals of the Program and is expressly prohibited by the D.C. Human Rights Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate based on sources of income. 

Furthermore, Lenkin’s practices disproportionately affect African Americans, who make up the vast majority of Voucher holders in the District. According to the data cited in the ERC complaint, Lenkin’s refusal to rent to Voucher holders is 71 times more likely to exclude African American renters than white renters. As a result, Lenkin’s refusal to rent to Voucher holders also violates the prohibitions on racial discrimination in the D.C. Human Rights Act and the federal Fair Housing Act.

The action was filed by WilmerHale and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Prior to filing the complaint, the ERC conducted extensive civil rights testing of multiple properties owned, managed, or operated by Lenkin in parts of the District, such as the upper Northwest quadrant, where African Americans are underrepresented. The testing revealed that the company has a policy or practice of excluding applicants seeking to use Vouchers as a source of payment to help pay for rent.

ERC Executive Director Melvina Ford comments: “Through this lawsuit the ERC hopes to make Lenkin properties available to Voucher holders in the future and to make good on the promise that housing opportunity should be equal for all renters in the District. We will continue to combat these kinds of discriminatory practices, particularly where such refusals to rent have an adverse effect on and seek to exclude African American renters who rely on Vouchers to pay for the rent.”

WLC Executive Director Jonathan Smith states: “Source of income discrimination in the District is a pernicious and persistent problem that creates unnecessary and unlawful barriers to meaningful housing choice for Voucher holders and which perpetuates racial and economic segregation. For too long, landlords have refused to rent to Voucher holders, which contravenes the Voucher Program’s goals and makes our communities less integrated and less equitable."

WilmerHale Partner Steven Cherry notes: “Laws outlawing discrimination of the kind alleged here are designed to ensure that individuals are not prevented from obtaining quality housing based on their race or receipt of housing subsidies.  We hope this suit will encourage all District landlords to comply with the anti-discrimination laws.”


MEDIA HIGHLIGHTS:

Washington Business Journal (April 13, 2017)
Washington CityPaper (April 13, 2017)
Courthouse News Service (April 19, 2017)


MEDIA CONTACTS:

Alexis L. Squire

Senior Manager of External Affairs 
The Equal Rights Center
asquire@equalrightscenter.org
(202) 370-3209

Gregg Kelley
Director of Devlopment and Communications 
Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
gregg_kelley@washlaw.org
(202) 319-1000

Molly D. Nunes
Public Relations Director
WilmerHale
molly.nunes@wilmerhale.com
(202) 663-6000

 

ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs was established in 1968 to provide pro bono legal services to address issues of discrimination and entrenched poverty. Since then, it has successfully handled thousands of civil rights cases on behalf of individuals and groups in the areas of fair housing, equal employment opportunity, public accommodations, immigrant rights, disability rights, public education, and prisoners’ rights. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org.

ABOUT WILMERHALE: WilmerHale provides legal representation across a comprehensive range of practice areas that are critical to the success of its clients. The law firm’s leading Intellectual Property, Litigation/Controversy, Regulatory and Government Affairs, Securities, and Transactional Departments participate in some of the highest-profile legal and policy matters. With a staunch commitment to public service, the firm is renowned as a leader in pro bono representation. WilmerHale is 1,000 lawyers strong with 12 offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. For more information, please visit www.wilmerhale.com.

Property Management Company 's Refusal to Rent to District Voucher Holders is Unlawful Descrimination

The Equal Rights Center has sued a residential property management firm, The Lenkin Company Management, Inc., for discriminating against renters who receive Housing Choice Vouchers. These Vouchers help low-income individuals and families obtain housing and greater access to quality economic and educational opportunities outside of areas of concentrated poverty. By refusing to rent available units to Voucher holders, Lenkin’s conduct illegally discriminates on the basis of source of income, as well as on the basis of race, because African Americans make up the vast majority of Voucher holders in the District. As explained by WLC Executive Director Jonathan Smith, “Source of income discrimination in the District is a pernicious and persistent problem that creates unnecessary and unlawful barriers to meaningful housing choice for Voucher holders and which perpetuates racial and economic segregation. For too long, landlords have refused to rent to Voucher holders, which contravenes the Voucher Program’s goals and makes our communities less integrated and less equitable.” 

Read the press release here...

Committee Executive Director Jonathan Smith Named Recipient of the DC Bar's 2017 Brennan Award

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs is proud to announce that our Executive Director, Jonathan M. Smith, has been named as the 2017 recipient of the William J. Brennan Jr. Award by the D.C. Bar. The award recognizes Jon’s work toward furthering the public interest and equal justice for all Americans.

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SAM.gov Now Accessible in Compliance with Settlement Agreement with American Council of the Blind

WASHINGTON, DC –The General Services Administration (GSA) website is now, pursuant to a settlment agreement, accessible to blind users. GSA has completed testing of its SAM.gov website according to the terms of a settlement agreement reached between GSA, the American Council of the Blind (ACB), and three blind federal contractors. Plaintiffs were represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (“WLC”) and Eversheds Sutherland (US) LLP. The completed testing confirmed that SAM.gov is now accessible and in compliance with relevant web accessibility guidelines.

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Abuse of Prisoners with Mental Illness in the Federal Supermax Addressed by Settlement

The Administrative Maximum (ADX) Facility in Florence, Colorado is the highest security prison in the federal prison system. This supermax prison engages in extreme forms of isolation that are dangerous and harmful to the men held there. After more than four years of litigation, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP reached a settlement with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The settlement requires the BOP to, in all but a few special cases, ensure that men with serious mental illnesses are not confined to ADX and the men who remain, whether seriously mentally ill or not, will have access to expanded programming and monitoring of their condition and care.

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Deaf Prisoners May Have Right to Use Videophones to Communicate With Outside World

In a recent landmark decision, the Fourth Circuit held that the failure to provide a videophone to a prisoner who is deaf so that he can communicate with people outside of prison may violate his First Amendment rights.

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