Despite constitutional guarantees, Americans’ civil rights and liberties are constantly in danger of violation. Recent events have proven the importance of vigilance and activism to protect these precious rights from attacks that are sometimes subtle, sometimes egregious, but always wrong. Regardless of whether personal prejudices or national security concerns lie at the root of these violations, challenging them — and holding wrongdoers accountable — is imperative.
What Public Justice Is Doing
Public Justice’s cutting-edge civil rights and civil liberties litigation is both broad and far-reaching. Early in our history, we were proud to be a leader in working to uphold Title IX’s promise of gender equity in women’s intercollegiate athletics, filing a series of successful lawsuits that restored equal opportunities and treatment to scores of students whose athletic teams were on the chopping block. Similarly, when two female coaches at Florida Gulf Coast University faced retaliation and defamation for speaking up about gender inequities in the school’s athletic programs, we sued under Title IX, winning our clients a multimillion dollar settlement, and an agreement from FGCU to hire an independent expert in Title IX to review and monitor the school’s compliance with the law.
Today, our Title IX work extends far beyond athletics and impacts all aspects of education. In one recent case, Public Justice successfully reached an agreement with Claflin University after Kamaria Downs was forced by university officials to vacate her dormitory and move off campus because she was pregnant. As a result of Public Justice’s advocacy on behalf of Kamaria, Claflin revoked its policy prohibiting pregnant students from living on campus, created a new policy designed to support pregnant and parenting students in full compliance with Title IX, and agreed to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant students in the same way it does for students with disabilities or temporary medical conditions. In 2017, Public Justice also led a coalition of more than 50 civil rights advocates and organizations in reaching key Title IX staff at each state’s Department of Education with important information on schools’ legal obligations in protecting transgender students. Following the rollback of critical federal guidance on facility access for transgender youth, we joined the National Women’s Law Center, Lambda Legal, and other advocates in helping to ensure schools are aware about what the law requires.
Public Justice is also proud to be among the vanguard of organizations fighting sexual harassment in schools through Title IX litigation and advocacy. Sexual harassment disproportionately impacts women and girls. One in five women and one in fourteen men experience sexual assault while in college. For female bisexual and transgender students, victimization rates are even higher. More than one in four transgender students and more than one in three bisexual students experience sexual assault while in college. Younger students also face sexual harassment, including sexual assault. Nearly half the 7th to 12th grade students surveyed in a national study said they experienced sexual harassment at school. We believe Title IX litigation is essential when schools fail to adequately respond to sexual and gender-based harassment, and can result in systemic change in the culture of schools.
Our legal team is also on the front lines battling the abuse and neglect of immigrant detainees and prisoners, who are disproportionately men of color. Being in prison does not remove a person’s right to receive adequate medical care, but too often prisoners struggle to secure their basic health needs. Francisco Castaneda was a California prisoner who was later transferred to federal immigration detention. Neither authority allowed him to get a simple skin biopsy for a penile lesion, despite the fact that every medical provider to examine him said he urgently needed it. Mr. Castaneda eventually got a biopsy on his own after being released from federal custody, but by then it was too late. His penis was amputated and he began a round of chemotherapy in a futile attempt to stop the spreading cancer. He died one year after finally getting the biopsy, at the age of 36. Public Justice successfully reached settlements with the federal government and employees of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for a combined $3.2 million for the Castaneda family.
Similarly, Public Justice also combats the use of excessive force in prisons. Rafael Edgardo Solis, Sr. was detained in Webb County, Texas for allegedly falling behind on child support payments. Three days after being taken into custody, his jailers handcuffed him and killed him via asphyxiation – apparently after beating and kicking him – supposedly while trying to put pants on him so they could transport him to a hospital. The county coroner found numerous signs of trauma, and ruled the death a homicide. A Texas Rangers’ investigation concurred. We filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Solis’s mother and his estate and settled the case in the weeks before trial for $1 million, the limit of the county’s insurance policy.