Civil Rights & Employment
Fighting for fair play and fair pay.
We represent people from all walks of life who have been subjected to discrimination and unlawful bias in the workplace, who have been denied pay for all of the work they performed, and 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.
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. We bring an unshakeable commitment to serving our clients vigorously and passionately for as long as the representation may require.
Our focus includes, but is not limited to:
- Disabilities and reasonable accommodations
- Gender, pregnancy, and family responsibilities
- Race and national origin
- Sexual orientation and transgender status
Wage and Hour
- Donning and doffing
- Pre-shift and post-shift time
- Worker misclassifications
- Seasonal workers and H-2A visas
We have litigated some of the largest and 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 helped conceive 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.
Our civil rights and employment law visionaries and innovators have litigated landmark civil rights and employment disputes before the highest courts in the nation, and continue to actively shape civil rights and employment law in the United States.
- Joseph M. Sellers, co-chair of the practice has argued seminal civil rights and employment class actions before the Supreme Court and successfully litigated many class action cases 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, co-chair of the practice is the co-chair of National Employment Lawyers Association’s Class Action Committee, the nation’s leading employment rights law association. She is highly regarded for orchestrating large, data intensive class and collective actions.
- D. Michael Hancock is the former Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. During his 20 years there, he helped enforce a 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.
- 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.): Cohen Milstein represented a certified class of more than 69,000 female employees of Sterling Jewelers, one of the nation’s largest jewelry chains, in a nationwide Title VII gender discrimination and Equal Pay Act class arbitration. Claimants alleged that they were subjected to a pattern of gender-based pay and promotions discrimination. On November 15, 2022, the Arbitrator granted final approval of a $175 million settlement. The case was 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.
- Gender-Affirming Surgery Coverage by Aetna: With the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Cohen Milstein led a pivotal access-to-healthcare negotiation 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.): In January 2018, Cohen Milstein clients, blind law students, successfully settled a disability discrimination class action against BarBri, Inc. – host of the country’s largest attorney bar exam prep course. Plaintiffs alleged that BarBri’s test prep offerings, including its mobile application, website and course materials, were inaccessible to visually impaired students in violation of the Americans with Disability Act and a similar Texas state law.
- National Association of the Deaf Litigation v. Harvard and MIT (D. Mass.): In February 2020 and July 2020, Cohen Milstein and co-counsel successfully settled two groundbreaking class actions on behalf of deaf and hearing-impaired individuals. The landmark settlements are historic because they require two of the most lauded academic research institutions in the world to include closed captioning on all content, including videos and podcasts, available to the public online, establishing a precedent for academia and business worldwide.
- 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.
Powerful advocates for the common good.
Director of Civil Rights and Employment Case Development
On February 1, 2024, Equal Rights Center (ERC) filed a consumer protection lawsuit against AIR Communities, L.P., Rhode Island 15 LP, dba Latrobe Apartment Homes, and Vaughan Place, LLC, for their use of discriminatory policies and practices that create unlawful barriers for applicants in the District of Columbia using housing vouchers and applicants with stale […]
Amazon Flex Driver Arbitrations (AAA): Cohen Milstein represents thousands of current and former Amazon Flex delivery drivers in California, Illinois and Massachusetts who allege that Amazon misclassified them as independent contractors instead of employees to avoid paying them overtime or reimbursing for expenses, and to deny them other benefits under these states’ laws. These cases are currently being litigated before the American Arbitration Association.
Louis, et al. v. SafeRent Solutions (D. Mass.): Cohen Milstein represents individual plaintiffs and the Community Action Agency of Somerville against SafeRent Solutions (formerly known as CoreLogic), in a Fair Housing Act violation lawsuit. Plaintiffs allege that SafeRent, which provides tenant screening services to landlords and property owners, has been violating the FHA and related state laws because its tenant screening software algorithm disproportionately gives low scores to Black and Hispanic rental applicants who use federally funded housing vouchers, causing them to be denied housing. On January 9, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a statement of interest in this case.
In re Tyson Foods FLSA MDL (M.D. Ga.), Cohen Milstein was lead counsel in a collective action involving FLSA claims at over 40 Tyson chicken processing plants, which ultimately resolved the claims of 17,000 chicken processing workers who had been denied compensation for donning and doffing required safety and sanitary equipment.
Couy Griffin Jan. 6 Insurrection Litigation (1st Jud. Dist. Crt., Santa Fe Cnty., NM): Acting as trial counsel, Cohen Milstein, on behalf of CREW helped successfully prosecute this quo warranto lawsuit to remove Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin from office and disqualify him from holding any future public office pursuant 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and New Mexico statutes because of his participation in the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol.
Gentiva Health Services (N.D. Ga.): Cohen Milstein represented hundreds of health care workers in a nationwide class action against Gentiva, one the country’s largest home health care service providers. Plaintiffs sought unpaid overtime wages under FLSA. In June 2017, the court granted final approval of a confidential settlement.