Act victory for the Equal
Cohen Milstein’s Civil Rights & Employment practice includes civil rights and employment law visionaries and innovators, who have litigated landmark civil rights and employment disputes, including Keepseagle v. Vilsack (D.D.C.) and Dukes v. Walmart (N.D. Cal.) before the highest courts in the nation and who continue to actively shape civil rights and employment law in the United States. We have received numerous accolades for our work, including:
- Lawdragon 500 – “Leading Plaintiff Employment Lawyers” (2018 - 2021)
- The National Law Journal – “Elite Trial Lawyer Award – Employment Rights – Finalist” (2018, 2021)
- The National Law Journal – “Elite Trial Lawyer Award – Civil Rights – Finalist” (2021)
- Legal 500 – “Labor and Employment Disputes: Plaintiff” (2018 - 2020)
- Law360 – “MVP – Employment Law” (2018)
- The American Lawyer –“A Giant of the Plaintiffs Bar” (2017)
We bring an unshakeable commitment to serving our clients vigorously and passionately for as long as the representation may require.
We represent individuals from all walks of life and across all industries, including agriculture, entertainment, finance, healthcare services, manufacturing, retail, technology, transportation, and other “white collar,” “blue collar,” and “pink collar” industries.
- Employees: We represent employees at all levels of employment – across all industries – who have been subjected to discrimination and unlawful bias in the workplace or who have been denied pay for all of the work they performed.
- Individuals: We also represent groups of individuals who have been denied access to places of public accommodation, housing, and/or equal access to credit because of unlawful bias and discriminatory practices.
On behalf of our clients, we pursue civil rights and employment class actions in federal courts across the nation, including the U.S. Supreme Court, that often involve cutting-edge issues related to the Fair Labor Standards Act, Title VII, Equal Pay Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as novel joint employer liability issues and procedural issues related to class certification and class arbitration.
The scope of our Civil Rights & Employment practice includes, but is not limited to:
- Disabilities and reasonable accommodations
- Gender, pregnancy, and family responsibilities
- Race and national origin
- Sexual orientation
Wage and Hour:
- Donning and doffing
- Pre-shift and post-shift time
- Worker misclassifications
- Seasonal workers and H-2B visas
Cohen Milstein’s Civil Rights & Employment practice includes civil rights and employment rights leaders, visionaries, and innovators, who are actively shaping the law in the United States, including:
- Joseph M. Sellers, Chair of the Civil Rights & Employment practice, is recognized as “A Giant of the Plaintiffs Bar” (American Lawyer, 2017). In addition to arguing seminal civil rights and employment class actions before the Supreme Court and successfully litigating many class action cases all the way through trial, he helped draft the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 – cornerstones of today’s civil rights and employment laws.
- Christine E. Webber, a “Best Lawyers in America,” is the Co-Chair of National Employment Lawyers Association’s Class Action Committee, the nation’s leading employment rights law association. Ms. Webber is highly regarded for orchestrating large, data intensive class and collective actions.
- Kalpana Kotagal, winner of Law360’s 2018 “Employment MVP”, is the co-author of the Inclusion Rider, a seminal employment contract addendum, made famous by Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand in her 2018 Best Actress acceptance speech, that facilitates greater diversity hiring practices.
- Anita F. Hill, whose role in ending workplace harassment is nothing less than historic. In 1991, Ms. Hill, then the former Special Assistant to the Chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Special Counsel to the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, testified before Congress on the discriminatory and sexually harassing behavior of her former EEOC and DOE supervisor and then Supreme Court Justice nominee, Clarence Thomas. Ms. Hill continues her public advocacy work and is also a University Professor at Brandeis University.
- D. Michael Hancock is the former Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division. As a senior DOL employee for 20 years, he has helped enforce a wide range of workplace protections, from minimum wage, overtime, child labor and the Family Medical Leave Act, to guest worker and other employment-based immigration programs.
We have litigated some of the largest, most significant civil rights and employment matters in recent U.S. history, including:
- Keepseagle v. Vilsack (D.D.C.): A more than decade-long, nationwide class action on behalf of Native American farmers and ranchers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its systematic race-based discrimination and denial of access to low-interest rate government loans, resulting in a historic settlement of $760 million.
- Dukes v. Walmart (N.D. Cal.): A high-profile gender-based discrimination class action involving more than 1.6 million women that went up to the Supreme Court in 2011 and further defined class action law. The litigation continues and was profiled in the May 2019 issue of TIME, “Nearly Two Decades Ago, Women Across the Country Sued Walmart for Discrimination. They’re Not Done Fighting.”
We have helped conceive of ground-breaking innovations to help foster diversity, equity, and inclusion:
- The Inclusion Rider: A novel contractual hiring addendum made famous by Frances McDormand in her 2018 Best Actress acceptance speech. The addendum stipulates that an employer tackle implicit bias of minorities in its hiring process by interviewing or auditioning minorities for open employment opportunities so that the work place (and the products or services rendered), authentically reflect the world in which we actually live, while protecting creative sovereignty.
We continue to pursue novel, cutting-edge work in civil rights and employment litigation, including:
Employment Class Actions
- Breen v. Chao (D.D.C.): On April 28, 2021, the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration agreed to a record-breaking $43.8 million settlement to end a 16-year-old lawsuit alleging discrimination against 670 former Flight Service Specialists who live in nearly all 50 states. The settlement, the largest ever reached in an age discrimination lawsuit involving the federal government, concludes this ligation. Cohen Milstein and co-counsel represented of Flight Service Specialists in this age discrimination lawsuit.
- Alvarez et al. v. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (D.N.J.): On February 26, 2021, Chipotle Mexican Grill agreed to a $15 million settlement to resolve novel wage-and-hour claims brought by Chipotle apprentices across the country. The case followed a new rule issued by the Obama Administration that expanded overtime eligibility, and it claimed this rule went into effect notwithstanding an injunction enjoining the Department of Labor from enforcing it. The settlement is pending court approval.
- Sanchez et al. v. McDonald's Restaurants of California Inc. (Sup. Crt. of Cal., Los Angeles Cnty.): On October 7, 2020, the Court granted final approval of a $26 million settlement in this precedent-setting Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) wage-and-hour class action bench trial. As a part of the settlement, McDonald's has agreed to revise some of its timekeeping practices and provide training sessions on wage policies for managers and hourly workers at corporate-run restaurants in California. Cohen Milstein and co-counsel represented the hourly, non-managerial workers at corporate-owned McDonald's restaurants throughout California.
- Jock et al. v. Sterling Jewelers Inc. (AAA; S.D.N.Y.): A Title VII and Equal Pay Act class action against one of the largest jewelry retailers in the U.S., whose CEO resigned in July 2017 following extensive, front page press coverage of not only the lawsuit, but evidence of executive-level sexual misconduct toward women. The case was also the subject of an April 2019 New York Times Magazine cover story, “The Company That Sells Love to America Had a Dark Secret.”
- Ralph Talarico v. Public Partnerships (E.D. Pa.): A FLSA collective action affecting more than 10,000 “direct care” workers and involving novel questions about when a company is a third-party joint employer and therefore liable to direct care workers.
- MVP Staffing Cases (N.D. Ill.): A series of race-based employment discrimination class actions against Personnel Staffing Group dba MVP Staffing, a national temporary job placement company. Plaintiffs, all of whom are African American, claim that MVP’s offices in Cicero, IL colluded with at least seven of its clients to prevent African-American workers from working at their plants and companies. All cases involve novel joint-employer issues.
- Cynthia Allen, et al. v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC (N.D. Ga.): Cohen Milstein and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project are litigating a putative Title VII employment discrimination class action against AT&T Mobility LLC for violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as individual Title VII, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Family and Medical Leave Act claims.
Civil Rights Class Actions
- Gender-Affirming Surgery Coverage by Aetna: With the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Cohen Milstein led a pivotal access-to-healthcare class action on behalf of four transgender women. On January 26, 2021, Aetna, one of the largest health insurance companies in the United States, agreed to expand its coverage to include gender-affirming surgery, including, in this matter, breast augmentation. As a part of the pre-litigation agreement, TLDEF and Cohen Milstein worked with Aetna to update its clinical policy bulletin to cover such medically necessary surgery for transfeminine members.
- Stanley, et al. v. BarBri, Inc. (N.D. Tex.): An American with Disabilities Act and Chapter 121 of the Texas Human Resources class action against BarBri, Inc. – host of the country’s largest attorney bar exam preparation course. Plaintiffs, all of whom are blind law students, claim that critical components of BarBri’s bar exam prep offerings, including its mobile application, website and course materials, are not accessible to blind or sight impaired law students. In January 2018, BarBri agreed to change their practices as a part of a settlement.
- National Association of the Deaf Litigation v. Harvard and MIT (D. Mass.): Two putative class actions involving American with Disabilities Act claims against Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Plaintiffs, who are deaf, allege in both cases that the schools’ online content fail to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.
- Long Island Housing Services, Inc. v. NPS Holiday Square LLC (E.D.N.Y.): A Fair Housing Act, New York State Human Rights Law, and Suffolk County Human Rights Law class action against NPS Property Corporation, a prominent Long Island-area property management company operating at least nine apartment complexes in Suffolk County. Plaintiffs, Long Island Housing Services, Suffolk Independent Living Organization, and individuals with disabilities, claim NPS intentionally and systemically discriminates against people with disabilities and those who rely on subsidized sources of income due to their disabilities.
Case Status In 2015 and 2016, the Arbitrator issued rulings certifying a class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)...