2017 Branton Awards Luncheon Outstanding Achievement Awards

Akin Gump Hauer Strauss & Feld LLP*

Parole Grant Hearings

Each year hundreds of DC prisoners incarcerated at federal facilities throughout the country go before the United States Parole Commission hoping to gain their freedom after decades in prison. Few are represented by counsel and most are denied parole with little explanation, despite being presumed suitable for release. This unfairly adds years or decades onto their court-imposed sentences.

Over the past year, attorneys and paralegals at Akin Gump Hauer Strauss & Feld LLP represented eight people at parole hearings. Akin Gump representatives travelled to remote facilities in West Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, and New Jersey, providing essential legal services. Their involvement increased the likelihood of a fair hearing and a positive outcome for the men they represented.


Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP

Cunningham v. Federal Bureau of Prisons

The Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Florence, Colorado is the highest security federal prison in America. Prisoners are held for years without meaningful human contact in cells the size of a parking space. Before Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee intervened, conditions for mentally ill prisoners were especially horrific, and included the denial of prescribed psychotropic medications. After more than four years of litigation, the APKS team reached a settlement that requires critical changes to the conditions at ADX.


Jacqueline Cote, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Cote v. Wal-Mart is the first class action filed on behalf of gay workers since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. The outstanding settlement in this matter, described below, would not have been possible without the resources and litigation expertise of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP.


Doris Nohemi Garcia Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.

No woman should be forced to choose between a prenatal appointment and her job. But that’s exactly what happened to Doris Garcia Hernandez, who was harassed by her supervisor at Chipotle for being pregnant, denied water and bathroom breaks, and ultimately fired after leaving work to see her doctor. Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP took Ms. Garcia’s case to trial. After four days of testimony and three hours of deliberation, a jury returned a $550,000 verdict for Ms. Garcia. In part because of this case, the D.C. Council enacted the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to ensure that workers are guaranteed pregnancy accommodations.


Bread for the City

Torres, et al. v. District of Columbia, et al.

Bread for the City attorneys drove the important settlement in Torres v. District of Columbia, described below. They recognized the need to bring legal action against DC Department of Human Services (DHS), identified clients who had been harmed by DHS’s lack of language access, and helped craft a settlement agreement that would best serve DHS’s customers. Pursuant to the settlement, DHS will make necessary changes to become language accessible.


GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

Jacqueline Cote, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

The precedent-setting Cote v. Wal-Mart class action, described below, began when GLAD filed a complaint on Ms. Cote’s behalf with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2014. The EEOC determined that Walmart’s treatment of Ms. Cote constituted unlawful sex discrimination and issued a right to sue letter. This complaint has led to hundreds of current and former Walmart employees being compensated for years of denial of health benefits. GLAD played a key role in the successful resolution of this matter.


Hogan Lovells US LLP*

Torres, et al. v. District of Columbia, et al.

Equal access to government services, regardless of language ability, is critical to a healthy and safe community. The DC Department of Human Services (DHS), however, repeatedly failed to provide language access services as required by law. As a result, Maria Amaya Torres had her food stamps cut after DHS refused her request for an interpreter and Minerva Nolasco was denied medical care when she was seven months pregnant after her health insurance benefits were canceled because she was not given important information in Spanish.

The team at Hogan Lovells US LLP was instrumental in the positive outcome of this case. They wrote a powerful complaint that seized the District’s immediate attention, prompted District officials to come to the negotiating table, and led to a quick and satisfactory resolution of the matter.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP*

Dianne K. Van Rossum v. Baltimore County, Md.

Kirkland & Ellis LLP represented Dianne Van Rossum, a Baltimore County employee, who was sickened by chemicals in her workplace. The County refused to accommodate Ms. Van Rossum, who began experiencing debilitating physical symptoms due to off-gassed chemicals after her department moved to a newly renovated office.

The Kirkland team masterfully told the story of how Ms. Van Rossum’s loyal 30-year career ended when she was constructively discharged 3 months before her retirement date. It took the Baltimore jury only 3 hours to unanimously come back with a record $780,053 verdict for the pain, suffering, and discrimination Ms. Van Rossum experienced.

Equal Rights Center v. SCF Management, LLC

Housing choice vouchers provide rent subsidies to low-income families that allow them to live in neighborhoods throughout the city. Discrimination against voucher holders is prohibited by District law. SCF Management refused to rent to voucher holders, limiting housing options and perpetuating racial and economic segregation.

Thanks to the diligent advocacy of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, SCF Management agreed to Equal Rights Center-led fair housing training for an employee and to implement policies that require it to consider vouchers as a valid source of income to pay for rent.


Outten & Golden LLP

Jacqueline Cote, et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Prior to 2014, Walmart did not offer health insurance to same-sex spouses of its employees. That meant Jackie Cote could not insure her wife Dee, who passed away in March 2016 after battling ovarian cancer. Due to Walmart’s policy, Jackie and Dee endured more than $150,000 in medical expenses, calls from bill collectors, and many long nights up worrying.

The team from Outten & Golden was pivotal in obtaining a groundbreaking settlement of $7.5 million to compensate hundreds of Walmart associates who were unable to obtain health insurance coverage for their same-sex spouses from Walmart prior to 2014.


Partnership for Civil Justice Fund

Allan R. Sergeant v. Alfie G. Acol, et al.

In 2014, Allan Sergeant was illegally strip-searched in front of a CVS after a baseless traffic stop by the Laurel, MD police. There was substantial evidence in the case that he was only searched because he spoke with a Caribbean accent. This year, he accepted an offer of judgment for $125,000.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund fought relentlessly for Mr. Sergeant’s rights and dignity. Their advocacy revealed that the Laurel Police Department had done little to discipline the officer, and brought justice for Mr. Sergeant. As they recognized, a public roadside strip search would often “go unchallenged by victims who may be in a vulnerable position, are not believed, and are without capacity to take on the police and their institutional defenders.”


Perkins Coie LLP*

Powell Elementary School Partnership

Powell Elementary School’s mission is for all of their students—regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or home language—to reach high levels of academic achievement and be prepared to succeed at the high school and college of his or her choice. Volunteers from Perkins Coie LLP have dedicated their time and expertise to help Powell achieve its mission. Each week, reading volunteers tutor first-grade students. The firm judges art contests, supports teacher professional development, and funds field trips. Perkins Coie attorneys also created and maintains a firm-funded 501(c)(3), and contributed to the Committee’s Guide & Toolkit for DC parent teacher organizations to help them make informed decisions about which nonprofit fundraising vehicles best suit the school’s needs and implement those decisions.


Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

David Bryant v. United States Bureau of Prisons, et al.

David Bryant is deaf, communicates only by American Sign Language, and is confined to federal prison. The Bureau of Prisons had refused to provide translation services, which left him unable to participate in prison programming, communicate with medical staff, stay safe in the event of emergencies, and communicate with family and friends.

Mr. Bryant’s case was the first to challenge the BOP’s failure to provide communication devices for deaf prisoners in the federal system. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP attorneys’ perseverance and creative lawyering—including holding a unique hearing in the federal penitentiary to assess the BOP’s technical ability to provide deaf services in a prison complex—means that Mr. Bryant (and eventually other deaf inmates) are safer, are better able to participate in prison programming, and can communicate with the outside world. The case settled in February 2017.


Veris Consulting, Inc.*

Financial Analysis and Damages Expert

The team at Veris Consulting brings its expertise in financial analysis and assessing, calculating, and testifying about the extent of our clients’ monetary damages. Veris has aided the Committee in valuing defendant assets in a loan modification scam, calculating damages in a racial discrimination matter that resulted in a verdict of nearly $800,000 for our client, and more recently has assisted in the battle against wage theft—the practice of not paying workers adequate minimum wages or required overtime hours, or not paying them at all. Their assistance helps ensure that our clients are compensated for the full amount they are entitled to receive. This indispensable service allows us to take on larger collective and class actions thanks to the resources and expertise they bring.


*DC Public School Partnerships
These firms and businesses have also made significant contributions to the Committee’s DC Public School Partnership Program. Schools across Washington, DC struggle every year with limited resources to meet the academic, social, and economic challenges faced by their students, families, and teachers. Our volunteers bring tutors, mentors, coaches, money, supplies, and legal expertise to support their partner schools. In the process, they become an integral part of the school community. Education can be an equalizing force, but not when educational resources are drastically unequally distributed. Our school partners are working with families and school communities to balance the playing field for DC students.

 

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