Kaye Scholer Secures Landmark Settlement for Deaf Client and Reforms NYC Homeless Shelter System

October 19, 2015

Kaye Scholer recently finalized a settlement with the City »  Read case coverage from the New York Law Journal.of New York that requires the city to pay Kaye Scholer client Grace Ihetu and her family $117,500 and to implement and report on system-wide accommodations to aid the hard of hearing and deaf in the city’s homeless shelters, including by providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. A dispute with various shelter operators was also resolved amicably.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit that Kaye Scholer initiated on behalf of our pro bono client more than two years ago, and which was subsequently linked to a related parallel investigation brought by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York (USAO-EDNY). Kaye Scholer’s settlement was conditioned upon the city entering into a consent decree with the USAO-EDNY, which mandated sweeping reforms to the shelter system. The consent decree was negotiated jointly between the city, the USAO-EDNY, Kaye Scholer and Kaye Scholer co-counsel the New York Center for Law and Justice (NYCLJ).

The litigation that led to this settlement arose out of our representation of Grace, a deaf mother of three, who initially sought a shelter placement for her family from the city when her children were minors. Forced to navigate the complex homeless shelter system with no ASL interpreter because of the city’s failure to provide one, Grace wound up being wrongly placed in a homeless shelter for single adults, separated from her children for several months, and given no way to communicate with the people around her.

Grace’s case was brought to Kaye Scholer by Bruce Gitlin, executive director of the NYCLJ, an organization that represents and advocates on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing New Yorkers. After taking initial steps to reunite Grace with her children and ultimately get them into more permanent family housing, Gitlin reached out to Kaye Scholer to discuss bringing a lawsuit that would compensate Grace’s family for the hardship they endured and prevent this from happening to other deaf individuals in the New York City shelter system.

After meeting with Grace and her family, Kaye Scholer and the NYCLJ filed a complaint for damages and injunctive relief in April 2013. At the Court’s direction, the parties began negotiations for injunctive relief—policy changes that would require, among other things, that the city provide ASL interpreters and other accommodations to deaf shelter residents and implement and train shelter personnel on a new auxiliary aids procedure. During negotiations, the Kaye Scholer team learned that the USAO-EDNY was conducting its own investigation of similar claims against the city, and pursuing similar relief. Kaye Scholer, NYCLJ and the USAO-EDNY have worked together since then to ensure the best results for this often-overlooked population, culminating in the city’s parallel settlements today with our client and with the USAO-EDNY.

In addition to the monetary and injunctive relief, Kaye Scholer and NYCLJ were awarded attorneys’ fees for their work in achieving such an important victory for the deaf community.

Litigation partner Jeffrey Horowitz, who is chair of NYCLJ’s board, supervised the matter and associate Kacy Wiggum led the team of associates representing Grace and her children, which included, among others, David Harris, Will Madden, Ashley Holmes and Stephanna Szotkowski.

Watch a CBS interview with Grace Ihetu.

» Additional case coverage from NY Daily News

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