Providing legal representation to people who are vulnerable, disenfranchised, or unable to fight for their rights is a central mission of our firm. Our work covers a broad range of civil rights and civil liberties, and we have successfully litigated both class actions seeking institutional change and individual cases seeking monetary compensation. We represent prisoners and parolees who suffer unconstitutional and abusive conditions, victims of discrimination or violence, and citizens whose voting rights are threatened. We are personally dedicated to achieving tangible results for our clients and to holding institutions accountable for violations of the fundamental rights enshrined in our Constitution and laws.
Throughout the history of our firm, we have sought to end systemic abuses of prisoners. Our lawsuits have resulted in institutional change and the reform unconstitutional conditions of confinement, denials of mental health and medical care, and unlawful discrimination against persons with disabilities. Our work builds on the principle eloquently stated by the United States Supreme Court in one of our cases: “Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons. Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The basic concept underlying the Eighth Amendment is nothing less than the dignity of man.” Brown v. Plata, 131 S. Ct. 1910, 1928 (2011).
- Coleman v. Brown/Plata v. Brown: In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that overcrowding in California’s prisons resulted in cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court affirmed a January 2010 order issued by a three-judge federal court after an extensive trial directing California officials to reduce the State’s severe prison overcrowding down to 137.5% of design capacity. The order was issued after the judges found that overcrowding is the primary cause of ongoing unconstitutional conditions in California’s prisons, such as the system’s inability to provide minimally adequate medical and mental health care for prisoners. See Brown v. Plata, 131 S. Ct. 1910 (2011).
- Coleman v. Newsom: RBGG represents a class of the more than 38,000 men and women in California’s prison system with serious mental illness. After a contested trial, the district court held that the prison mental health delivery system violates the Eighth Amendment and ordered systemwide injunctive relief. See Coleman v. Wilson, 912 F. Supp. 1282 (E.D. Cal. 1995). The court determined that the constitutional violations remain ongoing in 2013 after the State attempted to terminate the injunction. See Coleman v. Brown, 938 F. Supp. 2d 955 (E.D. Cal. 2013). Through hard-fought litigation over the last two decades, RBGG has secured a number of significant systemic changes on behalf of the class, including reforms to policies and practices regarding the use of force against prisoners with mental illness, as well as the overuse and misuse of solitary confinement. See Coleman v. Brown, 28 F. Supp. 3d 1068 (E.D. Cal. 2014). On November 28, 2018, the Ninth Circuit issued two unanimous rulings affirming lower court decisions on behalf of the class. The Court dismissed the State’s appeal of an April 2017 order because the district court had not granted or modified an injunction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1) in requiring the State to comply with prior orders to transfer class members to inpatient care in a timely fashion, nor had it issued a final order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291 because contempt proceedings remained ongoing. See Coleman v. Brown, 743 Fed. Appx. 875 (9th Cir. 2018). The Court separately upheld a October 2017 order on the merits, ruling that district court complied with the Constitution and the Prison Litigation Reform Act in holding the State to its twenty-four hour timeframe to transfer patients in mental health crisis to licensed hospital settings, as longer waits “create ‘a substantial risk of serious harm’” in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Coleman v. Brown, 756 Fed. Appx. 677 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 828 (1994)). These appellate victories ensure timely access to critically needed psychiatric inpatient hospitalization for the members of the Coleman class, and the State’s compliance with the inpatient transfer timelines has dramatically improved in the wake of the rulings. For more information see Coleman v. Brown: Court Orders, Reports, Photos, Expert Declarations and Media Coverage.
- Sabata v. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services: RBGG and our co-counsel the ACLU of Nebraska, the ACLU National Prison Project, Nebraska Appleseed, the National Association of the Deaf, and DLA Piper filed a class action lawsuit on August 15, 2017 against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and Nebraska Board of Parole, challenging the conditions of confinement in Nebraska’s severely overcrowded and understaffed prison system, including constitutionally inadequate medical, dental and mental health care, the overuse of isolation, and the failure to provide reasonable accommodations to prisoners with disabilities. Nebraska’s prison system is one of the most overcrowded in the US, operating at about 160% of its design capacity, with many prisons at even more dangerously high levels of overcrowding (with nearly twice as many people as they were designed to house). In June 2020 the Court denied class certification and the parties agreed to voluntarily dismiss the case without prejudice in November 2020. The voluntary dismissal came after NDCS made progress addressing some of the lawsuit’s concerns including by closing its solitary confinement unit at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, which expert testimony described as among the worst in the nation. NDCS also significantly reduced the number of people in solitary confinement overall, made significant changes to policies to improve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, improved access to American Sign Language interpreters, adopted new policies related to mental health levels of care, and made significant improvements to its dental care policies. (U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, Case No. 4:17-cv-03107-RFR-MDN.)
- Babu v. County of Alameda, N.D. Cal No. 5:18-cv-07677-NC: RBGG represents eight prisoners in a class action case filed in December 2018 against Alameda County on behalf of all prisoners, including all prisoners with psychiatric disabilities, challenging the unconstitutional use of isolation, denial of constitutionally adequate mental health treatment, and unlawful segregation of prisoners with mental illness into units without access to programming and other basic services at the County’s Santa Rita and Glenn Dyer Jails. Since the filing of the lawsuit the County closed the Glenn Dyer Jail, located in downtown Oakland, in June of 2019 and the case continues regarding conditions at the Santa Rita Jail located in Dublin. In January 2019, the Court certified a class of all prisoners who are, or will be, incarcerated at the Santa Rita Jail as well as a subclass of all prisoners with psychiatric disabilities who are, or will be incarcerated at the Jail. On February 7, 2022, the Court approved a Consent Decree to address problems at the Jail. Over the next six years RBGG, as Class Counsel will work with the Defendants, the Joint Experts, and the Department of Justice to reform Alameda County Jail in areas covered by the Consent Decree. RBGG will do this through consulting with class members; developing and implementing policies, procedures, and trainings; monitoring the Jail with the Joint Experts; and if necessary, enforcing the Consent Decree before the Court.
- Hernandez v. County of Monterey: We sued the County of Monterey and its private medical provider, California Forensic Medical Group, challenging dangerous and unconstitutional conditions in the County’s Jail, a system plagued by severe overcrowding, outdated facilities, and chronic understaffing. In 2014, we defeated the defendants’ motions to dismiss and obtained a unique ruling holding that our clients could assert ADA Title III claims against the Jail’s private medical provider. See Hernandez v. County of Monterey, 70 F.Supp.3d 963 (N.D. Cal. 2014). The federal court subsequently certified a class of the approximately 950 prisoners in the Jail, along with a sub-class of prisoners with disabilities. See Hernandez v. County of Monterey, 305 F.R.D. 132 (N.D. Cal. 2015). On April 14, 2015, the court granted a sweeping preliminary injunction on behalf of the class and sub-class, finding rampant violations of the Constitution and federal law. See Hernandez v. County of Monterey, 110 F. Supp. 3d 929 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 2015). The court approved the parties’ settlement on August 18, 2015, which requires defendants to comply with the requirements of the preliminary injunction and to develop and implement a comprehensive set of plans to enhance services at the Jail. In November 2015, the Court approved a $4.8 million dollar award of fees and costs to counsel for the plaintiff class.
- Hedrick, et al. v. Grant, et. al: RBGG and the UC Davis Civil Rights Clinic represent a class of pre-trial detainees, convicted prisoners, and immigration detainees challenging conditions of confinement at California’s Yuba County Jail. In 2013, the federal district court denied Yuba’s attempt to terminate a long-standing consent decree requiring the County to maintain certain minimum standards for those incarcerated at the Jail, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision in 2016. In the fall of 2016, RBGG filed an enforcement motion, seeking to require the County to improve its policies regarding safety cells, suicide screening, out of cell time, intake, and other critical issues, as well as a motion to add claims under the ADA. After extensive court-supervised settlement negotiations, the parties signed an amended Consent Decree in August 2018. The court approved the Amended Consent Decree and awarded attorneys’ fees to class counsel in early 2019. Since then, RBGG has been closely monitoring the County’s compliance with the Amended Consent Decree and the following Monitoring Reports have been filed with the Court: October 26, 2021, April 5, 2021, October 9, 2020, and May 28, 2020.
- Gates v. Deukmejian: We secured a consent decree requiring California to improve medical and mental health care, treatment of HIV prisoners, and conditions of confinement for certain California prisoners. Over the course of four appeals (one unreported), we successfully defended the scope of the remedy, our entitlement to fees for litigation and monitoring, and an enforcement order prohibiting the use of certain riot-control guns on mentally ill prisoners confined to their cells. See Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392 (9th Cir. 1993), Gates v. Rowland, 39 F.3d 1439 (9th Cir. 1994), and Gates v. Gomez, 60 F.3d 525 (9th Cir. 1995). We also litigated a subsequent related appeal that clarified contempt powers in complex injunction cases. See Gates v. Shinn, 98 F.3d 463 (9th Cir. 1996).
- Toussaint v. McCarthy: Over the thirty-year course of this case concerning the class of prisoners confined to segregation units in four California prisons, we secured preliminary and permanent injunctions to improve conditions as well as substantial fee awards. We also successfully defended various aspects of the injunctions, as well as the award for fees arising from the monitoring process, over the course of eight appeals (five unreported). See Toussaint v. McCarthy, 597 F. Supp. 1388 (N.D. Cal. 1984), aff’d 801 F.2d 1080 (9th Cir. 1986); see also 826 F.2d 901 (9th Cir. 1987), and 926 F.2d 800 (9th Cir. 1990).
The Constitution provides that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” RBGG’s work on behalf of prisoners, parolees, and young people in the juvenile system has led to meaningful reforms that protect this fundamental right. Our efforts have led to greater fairness in parole procedures while promoting alternatives to incarceration, reducing recidivism, and enhancing public safety.
- Valdivia v. Davis: RBGG secured a permanent injunction against the State based on a federal court’s finding that delays in its parole revocation process violated due process protections. The State agreed to improve the timeliness of parole revocation proceedings, to provide probable cause hearings, and to appoint attorneys to represent all parolees facing revocation proceedings, among other fundamental due process protections. See Valdivia v. Davis, 206 F. Supp. 2d 1068 (2002).
- L.H. v. Schwarzenegger: RBGG secured the rights of all juvenile parolees in California to fair hearings when they are accused of violating the terms of their parole. As a result of our lawsuit, the State agreed to provide attorneys to all juvenile parolees accused of parole violations, as well notice of the charges and evidence against them, the right to confront their accusers in a hearing, assistance for those parolees with disabilities, and the right to be considered for community-based alternative sanctions instead of return to the juvenile prison system. See L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, 519 F. Supp. 2d 1072 (2007).
RBGG has long focused on fighting discrimination against persons with disabilities. We have represented classes of persons with disabilities in cases against major public entities such as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Board of Parole Hearings, and the City of Oakland.
- Stiner v. Brookdale Senior Living, Inc.: RBGG and co-counsel filed a federal class action lawsuit in July 2017 accusing Brookdale Senior Living, the largest provider of assisted living for senior citizens and persons with disabilities in the U.S., of financial abuse and widespread violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. More than 5,000 residents live in Brookdale’s 89 California assisted living facilities. On January 25, 2019 the district court denied Brookdale’s motion to dismiss, finding the ADA applies to assisted living facilities. Stiner et al., v. Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. et al., 354 F.Supp.3d 1046 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 25, 2019). On June 5, 2019 the district court denied Brookdale’s motion for certification of interlocutory appeal and reiterated that assisted living facilities are covered by the ADA . Stiner et al., v. Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. et al., 383 F.Supp.3d 949 (N.D. Cal. June 5, 2019). Plaintiffs filed their class certification motion in August 2021 and their Reply in support of class certification in May 2022. The hearing on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification occurred on July 8, 2022 and was taken under submission. On November 11, 2021 NBC BayArea broadcast an investigative piece, “Nation’s Largest Senior Living Operator Accused of Neglect, Abuse,” that highlights the case.
- National Federation of the Blind v. Greyhound Lines, Inc.: RBGG represented the National Federation of the Blind and blind individuals in a class action in the Northern District of California challenging Greyhound Lines’ failure to ensure that its website and mobile software applications are accessible to blind individuals who use screen-access technology to access content on websites and mobile applications. RBGG and co-counsel TRE Legal Practice successfully negotiated a settlement of this action wherein Greyhound committed to improve accessibility to blind persons of its website and mobile app.
- Armstrong v. Newsom: RBGG proved in federal court that California’s prison and parole systems violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 by discriminating against prisoners and parolees with mobility, sight, hearing, learning, mental and kidney disabilities. We secured systemwide injunctive relief to end the discrimination, which was upheld on appeal. See Armstrong v. Wilson, 942 F. Supp. 1252 (N.D. Cal. 1996), aff’d 124 F.3d 1019 (9th Cir. 1997). We also established that the State is responsible for taking steps to ensure the rights of prisoners and parolees with disabilities are accommodated when it chooses to house them in third-party county jail facilities. See Armstrong v. Brown, 857 F. Supp. 2d 919 (N.D. Cal. 2012), aff’d 732 F.3d 955 (9th Cir. 2013), cert denied, 134 S. Ct. 2725 (2014); and 622 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2010). The Armstrong litigation has resulted in a series of ground-breaking precedents, including rulings that the ADA does not permit state government agencies to avoid compliance by delegating responsibilities to local governments, and that prisoners cannot be held in solitary confinement solely on account of disability. We are currently working to stop staff misconduct targeting people with disabilities at CDCR. On September 8, 2020 and March 11, 2021 respectively, Judge Claudia Wilken granted in part our February 2020 and June 2020 motions to stop staff misconduct at six prisons in CDCR. The Court found that the systemic abuses against incarcerated people with disabilities at—R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility (San Diego, CA)), CSP – Los Angeles County (Lancaster, CA), CSP -Corcoran (Corcoran, CA), Kern Valley State Prison (Delano, CA), Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (Corcoran, CA), and California Institution for Women (Corona, CA) —violate the ADA and prior court orders. As a remedy, the Court required Defendants to develop plans to install security cameras and use body worn-cameras (BWCs) throughout the six prisons, reform the staff investigation and disciplinary process, and increase supervisory staffing on all yards at the six prisons. Currently, BWCs are in use at all six prisons; security cameras will be in place by the end of the year. The Court also appointed an expert to oversee implementation of the mandated reforms. Armstrong v. Newsom, 484 F.Supp.3d 808 (N.D. Cal. 2020); Armstrong v. Newsom, 2021 WL 933106 (N.D. Cal. 2021). We are in ongoing negotiations with CDCR administrators regarding system-wide reforms to the staff investigation and discipline system. Relatedly, on July 30, 2020, the Court entered a preliminary injunction to protect two people with disabilities from retaliation by prison guards. Officers attacked and threatened both people because they had previously reported to RBGG lawyers that officers had abused other incarcerated people incarcerated people with disabilities. The Court ordered that CDCR transfer these two witnesses from the prison where they had faced assault, threats and other retaliation . Armstrong v. Newsom, 475 F. Supp. 3d 1038 (N.D. Cal. 2020).
- Cole v. County of Santa Clara, N.D. Cal. No. 3:16-cv-06594: RBGG represents five current and former prisoners in a class action on behalf of all prisoners with mobility disabilities to remedy long-standing inaccessibility issues throughout the Santa Clara County Jail system. The Court certified the class in February 2018, and RBGG and co-counsel Disability Rights Advocates negotiated an extensive and far-reaching consent decree that was approved by U. S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh on March 21, 2019. The County has agreed to extensive construction efforts to remedy physical barriers within the Jails and to make changes to policies and procedures to ensure prisoners with mobility disabilities have access to programs, assistive devices, and accessible housing, bathing, and dining facilities.
- Lyft, Inc.: RBGG represents the National Federation of the Blind and blind individuals in structured negotiations with Lyft, Inc. concerning access to Lyft transportation services for riders with service animals, which resulted in a comprehensive nationwide agreement in January 2017 subject to RBGG and co-counsel’s ongoing compliance monitoring.
- National Federation of the Blind v. Uber Technologies, Inc.: RBGG represents the National Federation of the Blind and its California affiliate as well as several individuals in an action challenging denials of service and other discrimination that blind and low-vision riders with guide dogs face when attempting to use transportation arranged through the popular Uber mobile app. On December 6, 2016, the Court granted final approval to a comprehensive nationwide class settlement, which is subject to RBGG and co-counsel’s ongoing compliance monitoring.
- Blanks v. AMC Entertainment, Inc.: RBGG represents the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the California Council of the Blind, and five blind individuals in a class action challenging AMC’s failure to provide reliable and effective access to audio description services at its theaters nationwide. Audio description is a verbal description of key visual aspects of a film during pauses in dialogue provided through an audio track synchronized with playback of the movie. The parties reached a comprehensive settlement agreement in April 2017.
- Hecker v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: RBGG brought this disability discrimination class action on behalf of all California prisoners with serious mental illness. On March 2, 2015, the court approved a final settlement in the case, which includes several statewide policy changes to end discriminatory practices and gives the federal court the power to enforce implementation of the changes as necessary.
- Armstrong v. Davis: After a contested trial, RBGG secured a federal court order requiring the Board of Prison Terms to remedy its failure to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act during parole hearings. The court issued the order after RBGG presented testimony from, among others, a prisoner who required the use of a wheelchair was forced to crawl upstairs to attend his hearing, a deaf prisoner who could not communicate with his sign language interpreter during his hearing because he was forced to remain shackled, and a blind inmate who was offered no help with understanding complicated written materials regarding his rights. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the injunction. See Armstrong v. Davis, 275 F.3d 849 (9th Cir. 2001).
- Berkeley Center for Independent Living v. Oakland Coliseum: RBGG Managing Partner Michael Bien served as co-lead counsel representing the plaintiff class in a successful federal court ADA action for damages and injunctive relief against the Coliseum, its public entity owners, and all sports teams and entertainment companies operating there.
- Amici Curiae Brief on Behalf of Deaf Advocacy Organizations in Ivy v. Morath: RBGG submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf and six other deaf advocacy organizations urging the Supreme Court to recognize that a state-mandated driver education program must be operated and regulated by the state in a manner that is accessible to deaf individuals and in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Our firm recognizes that the protection of the right to vote goes to the heart of our democracy. Unfair voting systems too often lead to the underrepresentation of certain groups in government, preventing those groups from electing officials responsive to their needs. We bring impact cases to address the violation of voters’ rights and to strengthen and protect our democratic system of government.
- California Council of the Blind v. County of San Mateo: The firm represents an association of blind and low-vision persons and two blind individuals in an action challenging the State and San Mateo County’s failure to provide voters with vision impairments the opportunity to equally participate in the County’s absentee voting program, which relies on inaccessible paper ballots. Plaintiffs seek to vote using software allowing them to read and mark their absentee ballots privately and independently using screen access software on their personal computers. In September 2016, the parties stipulated to and the Court ordered a framework for certifying and implementing an accessible absentee voting system in San Mateo County. In October 2017, plaintiffs secured for the first time the opportunity to vote using an accessible absentee voting system in the November 2017 election.
- Gonzales v. City of Compton: We represented three Latina women in a challenge to the City of Compton’s at-large method of elections under the California Voting Rights Act. We obtained a settlement in which the City agreed to place a measure on the ballot to change the city’s method of elections from at-large to district elections. The ballot initiative passed and, in the next election, Compton residents voted in the first Latino member of the City Council in the City’s history.
RBGG routinely litigates damages actions on behalf of prisoners who have been subjected to unconstitutional abuse, denials of basic and life-saving medical and mental health treatment, and dangerous conditions. Through this work, we are committed to obtaining fair compensation for the victims of misconduct, and to effecting systemic changes that will prevent similar incidents in the future.
- Fabio Petrolino v. City and County of San Francisco: RBGG represented the children, mother, and siblings of Alberto Petrolino, who was arrested after threatening suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge and accepted into custody at the County’s jail rather than being diverted to a psychiatric hospital, where, despite his family’s warnings, he was placed in regular housing with no suicide precautions and denied access to mental health treatment. Three days later, Alberto committed suicide by hanging himself in a shower stall. The family obtained a substantial settlement in the case. (U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Case No. 16-cv-02946-RS-JCS.)
- Estate of Bock v. County of Sutter: RBGG represented the four daughters of a man with serious mental illness who was denied access to clinically necessary and court-ordered psychiatric hospitalization while in the County’s jail. After being placed in solitary confinement and denied treatment at the jail for four weeks, he committed suicide in his cell. We obtained an $800,000 settlement in the case, along with a commitment from the County to consider expert recommendations to improve the treatment of prisoners with serious mental illness and medical conditions at the jail going forward.
- Estate of Prasad v. County of Sutter: RBGG represented the mother and children of a young man who developed a life threatening infection over the course of several days at the County’s jail. Custody and medical staff ignored and failed to respond to his worsening condition and pleas for help, leading to his preventable and painful death. After defeating the County’s motion to dismiss, we obtained a $775,000 settlement in the case, the majority of which was set aside to benefit the children. See Estate of Prasad v. County of Sutter, 958 F. Supp. 2d 1101 (2013).
- Estate of Nunuha v. State of Hawaii: RBGG represented the mother and son of Bronson Nunuha, a young Hawaii prisoner who was brutally murdered at a Corrections Corporation of America private prison in Arizona, when two prison gang members entered his unlocked cell and stabbed him to death. The wrongful death lawsuit alleged that the death was preventable were it not for the prison’s inadequate security policies and practices, and the State of Hawaii’s lack of oversight. We obtained a confidential settlement in the case.
- Estate of Medina v. State of Hawaii: RBGG represented the mother, sister, and two aunts of Clifford Medina, a young developmentally disabled Hawaii prisoner who was murdered by his cellmate at a Corrections Corporation of America private prison in Arizona, less than four months after Bronson Nunuha was killed in the same housing unit. The wrongful death lawsuit alleged that custody staff ignored clear warning signs that Clifford Medina was in danger, including threats made by the killer the day before the murder. We obtained a confidential settlement in the case.
- Lucas v. White: In this federal civil rights action for damages and injunctive relief, RBGG represented three female prisoners who were sexually assaulted while incarcerated in federal prison. The federal government agreed to pay $500,000 in damages. It further agreed to system-wide reform of its policies, procedures, and training governing issues of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the rights of female prisoners and victims of crimes. The court also awarded RBGG and its cocounsel over $500,000 in attorneys’ fees. See Lucas v. White, 63 F. Supp. 2d 1046 (N.D. Cal. 1999).
- Pruitt v. County of Sacramento: RBGG represented two men who were the victims of wide-ranging police and prosecutorial misconduct that included their wrongful arrests and detentions. After defeating the County’s motion to dismiss, RBGG secured a settlement of $400,000 for our clients.
- Knowles v. City of Benicia: We represented a young man who was arrested by Benecia police without probable cause, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. After the court granted our motion for summary adjudication, RBGG secured a settlement of over $600,000 for our client. See Knowles v. City of Benicia, 785 F. Supp. 2d 936 (2011).
- Countee v. County of Sacramento: RBGG represented a young man held as a pre-trial detainee in Sacramento jail who was suffered severe mental and physical injury after jail staff threw a flash-bang grenade into his cell and then denied him appropriate medical treatment for hours afterwards. The County agreed to pay our client $260,000 to settle the matter.
RBGG recognizes that discrimination based on sex, gender, and sexual orientation continues to create unfair barriers to equal opportunity and full participation in our society. We represent clients who have suffered such discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, fighting for their right to be treated fairly.
- Jay Brome v. California Highway Patrol: RBGG secured a unanimous reversal in the First Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals of a summary judgment order dismissing on statute of limitations grounds retired CHP Officer Jay Brome’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) claims, which arose out of the severe and pervasive discrimination and harassment he faced during his nearly twenty-year career because he is gay. The opinion affirms the importance of applying equitable doctrines— equitable tolling, the continuing violation doctrine, and constructive discharge—to allow employment discrimination and harassment claims to be heard on the merits by a jury. See Brome v. California Highway Patrol, 44 Cal.App.5th 786 (2020).
- Structured Negotiations with Lyft: RBGG’s clients, Kevin Seaman, an interdisciplinary artist, cultural worker, and drag queen whose drag persona is LOL McFiercen, and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a leading-edge Order of queer and trans nuns devoted to community service, reached a collaborative agreement with Lyft on June 28, 2019 to ensure individuals in the queer and drag communities are not discriminated against by drivers using Lyft’s platform. Under the Agreement, Lyft will develop new content to educate drivers about issues affecting the LGBTQ community; maintain a readily available method for riders to report discrimination via the Lyft App; re-train employees who handle complaints on LGBTQ issues; and develop an appropriate process to ensure that complaints are handled in a sensitive and appropriate manner. RBGG and co-counsel National Center for Lesbian Rights continue to monitor Lyft’s progress in complying with the Agreement.
- Amici Curiae Brief on Behalf of LGBT Bar Associations in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-168; Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. E.E.O.C., No., 18-107: In July 2019, RBGG filed an amicus brief in three cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status. The brief, which was filed on behalf of the National LGBT Bar Association, the National Trans Bar Association, the LGBT Bar Association of New York, Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom, and the LGBT Bar Association of Los Angeles, urges the Court to recognize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status as forms of impermissible sex discrimination. The brief also urges the Court to reaffirm that employers may not discriminate on the basis of sex to appease customer prejudice.
- Berman v. Brown: RBGG brought two Equal Protection Clause challenges to California’s Alternative Custody Program (ACP), a voluntary program that allows certain female low-level prisoners to serve up to the last 24 months of their sentences in the community in lieu of confinement in state prison. RBGG demonstrated that allowing qualified male inmates to also participate in the ACP is not only required by the Fourteenth Amendment, but will also benefit children and families, reduce recidivism, and save the State money. In 2014, the court found it likely that California illegally discriminates on the basis of gender by excluding males from the ACP. See 73 F.Supp.3d 1241 (E.D. Cal. 2014). In ruling for RBGG’s client on cross-motions for summary judgment, the court in 2015 permanently enjoined the State from enforcing the female-only provisions of California Penal Code § 1170.05(a) and ordered Defendants to immediately accept male applicants if they are otherwise eligible. RBGG’s client and a number of other male former prisoners are now free and participating in the ACP. See 99 F. Supp. 3d 1223 (E.D. Cal. 2015).
- Amicus Briefs on Behalf of Survivors of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts: RBGG has submitted multiple friend of court briefs urging the Supreme Court to recognize sexual orientation as a suspect classification under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the recent marriage equality cases. See Obergefell v. Hodges, 125 S.Ct.2071 (2015); Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S. Ct. 2652 (2013), andUnited States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013). We also submitted briefs in support of Maryland, California and New Jersey laws enacted to protect minors from the serious harms caused by “sexual orientation change efforts” (SOCE), the dangerous “therapies” purportedly designed to “treat” homosexuality. See Pickup v. Brown/Welch v. Brown, 728 F.3d 1042 (2013), King v. New Jersey, 767 F.3d 216 (2014), and Doyle v Hogan, Case# 19-2064, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit (2019).
- In re Joshua S.: We submitted a “friend of court” brief on behalf of various civil rights organizations in support of the plaintiffs’ right to collect attorneys’ fees under California’s private attorney general fee statute for her successful effort to establishing the validity of second parent adoptions in which the same-sex partner of a birth mother adopted the mother’s child while the mother remained a coparent. See In re Joshua S., 42 Cal. 4th 945 (2008).
RBGG has served as counsel in negotiations and litigation to assert our individual clients’ rights under state and federal disability law against various public and private entities, including state agencies and retail stores. In particular, RBGG has focused on protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities on the job, including several employees with diabetes.
- Chavez v. County of Los Angeles: RBGG obtained a favorable settlement of a federal court lawsuit filed on behalf of a woman who is deaf and communicates primarily through sign language. Ms. Chavez was denied sign language interpreter services during a three-day hospitalization at a Los Angeles public hospital. Despite her repeated requests, she was never provided an interpreter at any point during her hospitalization, which culminated in the surgical removal of her gallbladder, and she was discharged from the hospital without understanding instructions for post-surgical follow-up care. Ms. Chavez returned to the hospital twice more thereafter and was again denied interpreter services. RBGG secured $250,000 in damages on behalf of Ms. Chavez, as well as extensive training of hospital staff and changes to policy to ensure future deaf patients receive interpreting services.
- Blind Parent v. County: We represented a blind parent who was threatened with criminal charges by County Counsel for exercising her rights to talk about her experiences in family court and her concerns that her children were removed from her custody because of her blindness. We successfully argued that denying the parent the ability to speak with the press regarding her personal experiences violated the First Amendment. We convinced County Counsel to drop any claims that her conduct was criminal and obtained an order from the family court judge permitting the parent to speak with the press.
- Rena Wyman v. High Times Productions, Inc. and California Exposition and State Fair: RBGG filed this federal lawsuit in the Eastern District of California in September 2018 (Case No. 18-cv-02621-TLN-EFB) on behalf of a wheelchair user who has experienced accessibility barriers at High Times’s Cannabis Cup festivals. We seek damages and injunctive relief under the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and California disability access laws.
- Sharkey v. O’Neal: RBGG secured a unanimous total reversal in the Ninth Circuit of an order dismissing the complaint of a disabled client who suffered horrendous pain, stress, and deprivation of important medical treatment due to the State’s denial of reasonable accommodations for his disability. The case established, for the first time, that a three-year statute of limitations applies to Americans with Disabilities Act claims brought against public entities in California, rather than the previously assumed two years. See Sharkey v. O’Neal, 778 F.3d 767 (9th Cir. 2015).
- Deaf Patient v. Hospital: Co-counseling with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), RBGG obtained a favorable settlement on behalf of a young girl with extensive, chronic medical needs who is deaf and communicates through a sign language interpreter. Her local hospital had refused to provide necessary sign language interpretation services for her while she was receiving treatment. RBGG secured an action plan whereby the girl would be provided an on-site interpreter whenever necessary for her to receive effective communication. The confidential settlement included monetary compensation for the girl’s parents and payment of attorney’s fees, as well as an agreement by the hospital to give serious consideration to RBGG and NAD’s recommendations to improve the hospital’s policy for serving its deaf patient population.
- Employees v. National Retailer: We represented three individuals against a major national retailer in federal court. The employees alleged age and disability discrimination, as well as violations of federal and state medical leave laws. We obtained a favorable settlement for the clients early in the litigation.
- Individual v. Fire Agency: Through pre-litigation negotiations, RBGG secured reinstatement of a job offer to a woman whose offer of employment as a firefighter was revoked because she had insulin-dependent diabetes.
- Employee v. Retail Store: RBGG obtained a favorable settlement for a store cashier summarily terminated for treating her low blood sugar by purchasing a small snack while on the job.
- Employee v. Fire Agency: We helped a state fire agency employee secure reasonable accommodations to allow him to manage his diabetes on the job and to successfully complete the rigorous Fire Academy course.
RBGG has represented parents of young students with special education needs to ensure their rights are protected at school. For example, we have worked extensively with families to ensure that children with diabetes receive the care they need at school and are able to safely participate in all school activities and programs with their peers, in accordance with the California Supreme Court’s decision in ANA v. Torlakson, 57 Cal. 4th 570 (2013).
RBGG’s lawyers represent persons who were victims of crimes, working to protect their rights and dignity through criminal and administrative proceedings and to obtain compensation for their injuries and losses. We have represented persons ranging from female prisoners to a female college student who was sexually assaulted in the course of a sorority hazing. Our goal is to ensure the safety and security of the client, to aid in her recovery from the injuries she suffered, and to protect her rights and dignity through the various criminal, civil, and administrative processes.