Civil Rights/Constitutional Law

We take pride in having one of the largest, best established, highest quality, and most successful civil rights practices in the nation. Very few law firms of any size have litigated and won as many major civil rights cases as we have. Our civil rights and constitutional law practice is nationwide, with several cases before the United States Supreme Court.

Learn more about our civil rights / constitutional law practice

We have a committed group of lawyers who have dedicated the better part of their careers to fighting discrimination in the workplace, in housing, in education, and at the polling place; to vindicating our clients’ constitutional rights to speak freely and enjoy liberty, property rights, and equal protection of the laws; to battling police and law enforcement misconduct and governmental misconduct generally; and to protecting the rights of immigrants.

In addition to our representation of plaintiffs, we have also represented corporations, agencies, municipalities and school districts, providing advice about best practices; conducting compliance audits, anti-discrimination and harassment training and education, and internal investigations; assessing vulnerabilities; and drafting personnel policies and employee handbooks. We have also represented clients in defending claims and charges before courts, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, the Cook County Commission on Human Relations, the City of Chicago Commission on Human Relations, and the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.

Successfully litigated constitutional claims on behalf of wrongful death beneficiaries of a federal inmate who received inadequate medical care and died in solitary confinement in private prison. The case was favorably resolved for our clients.

EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION

Jones v. Walgreen Co. Represented a nationwide class of women retail store management employees in a Title VII class action lawsuit against the nation’s largest drugstore chain. The settlement provided for monetary relief of $17 million, as well as an injunction requiring both objective criteria for pay and promotions decisions involving female managerial employees and outside review of gender equity compliance efforts.

Lewis v. City of Chicago. In this class action, HSPRD represented more than 6,000 African Americans who took and passed a hiring exam for entry-level firefighter positions in the Chicago Fire Department and then were wrongfully denied the opportunity to be considered for employment by the City. The trial court ruled that the City’s method of hiring bore no demonstrable relationship to the relative skills or abilities of candidates for the position and that it disproportionately excluded African Americans, making it more than 5 times more likely that a white candidate rather than an African American would be hired. The City’s practice was, as the trial court called it, “a manifest violation of Title VII,” our nation’s core federal guarantee of equal employment opportunity. We have prevailed not only at trial but also in the federal Court of Appeals and before the US Supreme Court, which issued a unanimous opinion in favor of our clients. In May 2011, the Court of Appeals directed the trial court to enter a remedial order, which will result in the hiring of 111 class members as Chicago Firefighters and payment of $78.5 million in back pay and pension contributions.

Bell v. Woodward Governor Co. Represented minority employees in a Title VII class action alleging race and national origin discrimination by a large manufacturing employer, resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement. The settlement also provided comprehensive injunctive relief, including appointment of a third-party monitor and retention of workplace industrial organizational experts to create and implement non-discriminatory, job-related best practices for compensation and promotional decisions going forward.

Jefferson v. Ingersoll International, Inc. A Title VII race and sex employment discrimination class action in which we obtained a 1.8 million dollar settlement and consent decree providing for widespread changes in salary structure and promotional opportunities.

Obtained a 1.3 million dollar jury verdict on behalf of an individual whose Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process were violated when he sought to provide housing to minorities.

Obtained a 1.7 million dollar jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs who had been fired for cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation into governmental corruption.

Represented a successful sales representative in litigation against a computer software firm for sex and age discrimination that led to her disparate treatment and termination, which resulted in a favorable resolution for our client.

Represented a school district employee fired after exercising his First Amendment right to support the candidate of his choice in local school board elections. The verdict in this case was one of the highest ever in a single plaintiff civil rights action in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Successfully represented two different plaintiffs in sexual harassment suits arising out of their employment, which resulted in favorable settlements for the clients.

Successfully represented a plaintiff in an age discrimination suit arising out of his employment with a large private employer, which resulted in favorable settlement for the client.

FAIR CREDIT REPORTING ACT

Joshaway v. First Student and Hunter v. First Transit. National class actions against the two subsidiaries of the largest public transportation provider in the United States, challenging the use of criminal background checks on employees and applicants in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The $5.9 million settlement is the largest FCRA settlement resolving employment-related claims in U.S. history and requires corporate policies in full compliance with the law.

Represented plaintiff in a $625,000 Fair Credit Reporting Act class action settlement involving a national temporary employment agency.

FIRST AMENDMENT

Lynch v. Huberman. Obtained a preliminary injunction order on behalf of several Chicago Public Schools teachers after a district court judge held that the Chicago Board of Education had violated their First Amendment rights to political speech. Read case details.

ACLU v. City of Chicago. A class action challenge to political surveillance and harassment by local and national law enforcement agencies. The lawsuit resulted in a consent decree with the broadest restrictions in the country on government interference with the First Amendment activities of non-governmental, community, and public interest organizations.

HOUSING DISCRIMINATION

Hispanics United v. Village of Addison.A class action lawsuit brought under the Fair Housing Act on behalf of the owners and residents of two predominantly Mexican communities in Addison, Illinois. The settlement, on the eve of trial, prevented the planned destruction of those communities by the Village in the guise of “urban renewal.” The result was the largest Fair Housing law settlement in the nation’s history, and one that effectively changed the use of tax increment financing projects to prevent their abuse as redevelopment pretexts for the displacement and destruction of immigrant communities.

PROTECTION OF OTHER WORKER RIGHTS

Ramirez-Cruz v. United States. This was a class action filed by HSPRD against the Mexican government and three Mexican national banks on behalf of thousands of Mexican workers (braceros), who worked in the U.S. as contract laborers during World War II, pursuant to diplomatic agreements between the U.S. and Mexico. HSPRD led a team of lawyers from law firms in 5 cities seeking to recover unpaid wages withheld between 1942-1946. The historic settlement not only provided compensation to our clients, but was also the catalyst for reparations programs that made additional compensation available to many more thousands of braceros who worked in the program between 1947-1962. The presiding federal judge commended HSPRD for their persistence and accomplishment, stating: “I want to tell you I’ve never seen such litigation in 11 years on the bench that was more difficult than this one. It was enormously challenging…I actually expected, to tell you the truth, at some point that the plaintiffs would just give up because it was so hard, but they never did….And, in fact, they achieved a settlement of the case, which I find remarkable under all of these circumstances.”

SCHOOL DESEGRATION

People Who Care v. Rockford Board of Education. Trial and liability determination of a class action school desegregation case. The court’s ruling included the most detailed findings in the history of school desegregation litigation. The remedial order entered following the determination of liability provided for the effective integration of African American and Latino students in the second largest public school district in Illinois, as well as tens of millions of dollars of new school construction in minority neighborhoods.

Represented in litigation several predominately African-American school districts challenging the decision made by eleven predominately white high school districts to secede from and form a new, predominantly white high school interscholastic conference. The separation of the conferences would have effectively ended regular season competition between majority-white and majority-African-American high schools in this area. This case, one of the first to use the “effects test” provisions of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, settled on terms that assured integrated conferences and continued regular season competition and meetings between majority-white and majority-African-American high schools.

VOTING RIGHTS

del Valle v. McGuffage. Represented Latino and African-American voters in Illinois in a class action against seven local election jurisdictions and the Illinois State Board of Election Commissioners in which HSPRD challenged the use of flawed systems of recording and counting votes. The use of these voting systems had consistently resulted in disproportionately high error rates and undercounting of votes, particularly in predominantly minority voting districts. The settlement in the case led to elimination of punch-card ballots and optical-scan voting systems, which had failed to provide error notification throughout Illinois.

del Valle v. Illinois Legislative Redistricting Commission. Represented Latino elected officials and community leaders in a case in which HSPRD challenged the gerrymandered boundaries of legislative districts as violations of the Voting Rights Act and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The resulting settlement provided for district boundaries which maximized the electoral power of Illinois’ Latino communities and facilitated the rapidly growing Latino political power in Illinois.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

In re Mexico Money Transfer Litigation. This was consolidated litigation in which nationwide classes, represented by HSPRD, brought claims against the three largest money transfer companies in the United States. The suits alleged fraud by each company through their concealment of the spread between the currency-conversion fees they charged customers and their much lower actual transaction costs. The cases settled on terms that mandated transparency and facilitated price competition in exchange rates used by the money transfer industry and provided benefits worth more than $400 million to the classes of most Mexican immigrant workers, as well as $4.5 million in grants to non-governmental organizations all over the United States to serve the needs of the Mexican migrant community.

  • Matthew J. Piers, Atención a los Migrantes en Estados Unidos y México en su Origen, Tránsito, Destino y Retorno, presentation to the Department of International Studies of the Center for Research and Training in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City (Nov. 11, 2011).

  • Christopher Wilmes, Criminal-Record-Related Barriers To Employment And Public Housing, CLE Presentation to Poverty Law Section of the State Bar of Texas (July 29, 2011).

  • Matthew J. Piers, Class Actions in the United States, the Sociedad Civil y Acciones Colectivas Class and Lecture Series, Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico City, Mexico (Apr. 9, 2011).

  • José J. Behar, The EEO Laws: Proving a Case of Discrimination and Filing a Charge with EEOC, IDHR, the Cook County Commission on Human Relations and the Chicago Commision on Human Relations, Address at a private client training event (Jan. 10, 2011).

  • Caryn C. Lederer, “The Availability of Accessible and Affordable Housing for People with Disabilities,” Testimony before the New York Assembly Standing Committee on Housing Task Force on People with Disabilities; New York, NY (Nov. 13, 2009).

  • José J. Behar, Preventing Sexual Harassment, Address at a private client training event (Apr. 2008).

  • José J. Behar, What Do You Do If You Get A Complaint of Sexual Harassment?, Address at a private client training event (Apr. 2008).

  • José J. Behar, Documentation, Discipline and Discharge: Ignoring Problem Employees Affects Morale and Productivity, Panelist discussion at the Technical Assistance Program Seminars of the EEOC (Aug. 2004).

  • José J. Behar, Race, Religion, and National Origin: Ridding the Workplace of Cultural Stereotypes, Address at the Technical Assistance Program Seminars of the EEOC (May 2003).

  • José J. Behar, Investigation of Complex Employment Discrimination Cases, Address at an in-house training event for the EEOC (Apr. 2000).

  • José J. Behar, Investigative Techniques for Complex Employment Discrimination Cases, Address at an in-house training event for the EEOC (Aug. 1999).

  • José J. Behar, Preventing Workplace Discrimination, Address at the Technical Assistance Program Seminars of the EEOC (Oct. 1998).

  • José J. Behar, Same Sex Harassment: Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Address at a meeting of the Young Lawyers Division of the Chicago Bar Association (1998).

  • Matthew J. Piers, Presentation at a conference on class actions, convened by the Mexican Senate and Supreme Court and Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (Mar. 27-28, 2008).

  • Matthew J. Piers, Presentation at the First International Congress on Access to Justice for Consumers Through Class Actions, a conference sponsored by the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, PROFECO (the Mexican government’s Consumer Rights Commission), and Alconsumidor A.C. (the leading Mexican consumer rights non-governmental organization) (Nov. 15-16, 2007).

  • Racial Desegregation and Income Deconcentration in Public Housing, 9 Geo. J. on Poverty L. & Pol’y, 35 (2002), reprinted in Affirmative Action: Issues on Trial (Justin Karr ed. 2008).

  • The Death Penalty in Massachusetts, 36 Harv. J. on Legis. 479 (1999).