Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

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Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Formation 1969
Founded at Chicago, Illinois
Services Legal services

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. is a consortium of American law firms in Chicago that provides legal services in civil rights cases, with a focus on four major projects: the Employment Opportunity Project, the Law Project (previously the Community Economic Development Law Project), the Fair Housing Project, and the Hate Crimes Project. Recent activity has explored avenues to promote and protect civil rights in the Chicago metropolitan area through education, healthcare delivery, the environment, and voting rights.[1]


The mission of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. is to protect and promote civil rights by bringing the strength and prestige of the private bar to bear on the problems of poverty and discrimination.[citation needed]

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. was established in 1969 as a public interest consortium of Chicago law firms to provide pro bono legal services in significant civil rights cases. From nineteen firms in 1969, it has grown to 49 firms today. The majority of services are performed in Cook County, but the committee's influence in some projects is felt throughout the Midwest. Each year, over 18,000 hours of professional legal services, with an estimated value of approximately $8.5 million, is donated from our pool of over 1,000 volunteer lawyers.

The National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy, with the initial purpose of providing legal representation to Black people and civil rights workers in the Southern United States for whom lawyers were otherwise unavailable.

The Kerner Commission’s 1968 report, concluding that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal, ” made a series of recommendations to promote racial integration and large-scale improvement in the quality of life of African-Americans. Meanwhile, by 1969, inner city riots in Chicago and other northern urban centers showed that frustration over racial discrimination was prevalent throughout the nation, and required specific, local attention.

In response, local committees of lawyers were formed in 14 large cities to help combat, through volunteer action, the problems of urban poverty and racial discrimination. In 1969, a group of local attorneys established the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to provide quality legal counsel to those clients whose civil rights cases and projects would benefit the community at large. The first board of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee believed that "the poor and the black can become full and equal participants in our economic and political systems only when they achieve the power to deal on equal terms with public and private institutions. An essential element of that power is access to expert legal resources." From 1969 to 1970, federal judge David S. Tatel was a director of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under law.[2]

Since 1976, the Chicago Lawyers' Committee has operated as a separate, self-supporting, tax-exempt organization, although it continues to coordinate its activities with the National Lawyers' Committee and other local Lawyers' Committees throughout the country.

Significant cases[edit]

Craigslist controversy[edit]

Chicago Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law v. Craigslist, is a case involving allegedly discriminatory on-line advertising that was recently filed against craigslist, Inc., the company behind the website The lawsuit alleges that since July 2005, craigslist, Inc. has published and continues to publish housing ads from the metropolitan Chicago-area that are discriminatory on the basis of race, sex, national origin, religion, color and familial status in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.[3]

On November 14, 2006 the case was dismissed by the U. S. District Court in Chicago. On January 10, 2007 the District Court denied CLC's Motion to Reconsider. On January 11, 2007 CLC appealed the District Court's decision to the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Advertisements in Question

Advertisements in question[edit]

A sampling of the complaints included in the legal brief are included below:[4]

  • “Neighborhood is predominantly Caucasian, Polish and Hispanic.”
  • “All in a vibrant southwest Hispanic neighborhood offering great classical Mexican culture, restaurants and businesses.”
  • “Requirements: Clean Godly Christian Male.”
  • “Owner lives on the first floor, so tenant must be respectful of the situation, preferably not 2 guys in their mid twenties who throw parties all the time.”
  • “Walk to shopping, restaurants, coffee shops, synagogue.”
  • “The entire building is filled with interesting and fun people. Mostly Loyola Students.. . . . Church immediately across from building.”
  • “Accessible to transportation, church ST Margareth.”
  • “Catholic Church, and beautiful Buddhist Temple within one block.”
  • “Walk to shopping, restaurants, coffee shops, synagogue.”
  • “Perfect for 4 Med students.”
  • “absolutely ideal for a young professional and socialite!”
  • “Apartment is situated on 8th floor of building teeming with young people. It is unfurnished but ideal for a student or young single professional.”

Lewis firefighter case[edit]

The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee filed a lawsuit in 1998 which argued that the Chicago Fire Department's use of a very high cut score on the 1995 firefighter entrance exam discriminated against African Americans. They filed the case on behalf of African Americans who scored between 65 and 89 on the test. There are nearly 7,000 African Americans in the plaintiff class.

In 2005, Judge Gottschall ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and found that the city’s use of the 89 cutoff score on the test was discriminatory, on several counts. The plaintiffs alleged that the very high cutoff score of 89, as compared to the 65 cutoff score that had previously been stated, had a disparate impact to discriminate against African Americans, since 78% of candidates above the cutoff were white. In the ruling, Judge Gottschall held that the City had not shown that the test effectively measured the skills it was supposed to measure, like the ability to learn from demonstration. Consequently, performance on the 1995 test did not predict performance in the Fire Academy or on the job.

This case has continued to be appealed, eventually reaching the Supreme Court,[5] who ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in May 2010. The case was then sent to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where the City argued that plaintiffs failed to prove race discrimination when each hiring class is reviewed separately. During May 2011, the City’s argument was rejected, representing a final victory for the plaintiffs on the merits of the case.

111 class members will be hired as firefighters. Seniority will be awarded to these new hires, dating back to 1995, as well as back pension contributions. Class members who are not hired as a result of this ruling will be compensated for this discrimination at least $5,000 per person. In total, the City of Chicago is liable for up to $50 million in reparations, as well as an additional $500,000 in lost wages for every additional month that legal activity continues.

Parker and Pierce v. New Jerusalem Christian Development Corp.[edit]

Ms. Parker and Ms. Pierce were participants in the Chicago Housing Authority's "Choose to Own" program, which allows qualified families to use their Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) for mortgage payments on homes instead of rent. New Jerusalem agreed to sell new homes to both women, but subsequently refused to finalize the sales when it learned that part of their mortgage payments would come from the City of Chicago subsidies. Specifically, New Jerusalem refused to sign the necessary CHA documents, knowing that without it, the sales could not be completed.

In February 2011, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations found that housing developer New Jerusalem violated the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance by discriminating against Ms. Parker and Ms. Pierce based on their source of income. According to the Chicago's Fair Housing Ordinance, denial of housing based on source of income is illegal discrimination. The Commissioned ordered New Jerusalem to pay Ms. Pierce $20,000 for her emotional distress and $60,000 in punitive damages, and pay Ms. Parker $20,000 for her emotional distress and $10,000 in punitive damages, for a total of $100,000. New Jerusalem was also ordered to pay city fines, attorneys' fees and costs. CLC attorney Rachel Marks, along with Kirkland and Ellis LLP attorneys Paul Collier and Aaron Goodman, represented Ms. Parker and Ms. Pierce.

McFadden v. Board of Education for Illinois School Districts[edit]

In McFadden v. Board of Education for Illinois School District- a case involving educational inequities in the school district that includes Elgin, Illinois- federal District Court Judge Robert Gettleman issued a decision on July 11, 2013 holding that the school district has discriminated against Hispanic students in the operation of the district’s gifted program. Over 40% of the students in the school district are Hispanic, but in recent years only 2% of the students in the district’s elementary school gifted program have been Hispanic. This is in large part because the school district operates a separate program for gifted Hispanic students who learned English as a second language. Those students know English and are ready to participate in English-language classrooms and have been tested and found to be gifted, but are excluded from the mainstream gifted program.

As Judge Gettleman described it, this is “a separate, segregated program” that discriminates against Hispanic students, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Illinois Civil Rights Act. Judge Gettleman wrote that “there is no question that the District placed gifted Hispanic students in SET/SWAS based solely on their cultural identity.” The Judge held that the school district, while not motivated by an evil or racist motive, engaged in intentional discrimination: “The `inevitability or foreseeability of consequences’ permits `a strong inference that the adverse effects were desired.’”

The case will now proceed to the remedies stage in the District Court.


Employment Opportunity Project[edit]

Discrimination in hiring, pay, promotion, and termination unfairly disadvantages minorities and women from earning a reasonable wage with which to sustain their families. The Employment Opportunity Project challenges all forms of racial, national origin, and sexual discrimination in both public and private workplaces. Since 1973, EOP has pursued equality in the workplace through a variety of avenues:

  • Employment Discrimination Litigation Program: The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee litigates cases both in hiring and after a candidate has been hired, including sexual and racial harassment cases and discrimination in pay, promotion, and termination. Our litigation extends to assisting and training attorneys assigned under the United States District Court for the Northern District’s Pro Bono Program. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee has litigated severalsignificant cases through this program.
  • Combatting Domestic Violence Stigma in the Workplace Program: The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee represents and advocates on behalf of victims of domestic/sexual violence who are denied their rights to unpaid leave and accommodation under the Victims Economic Security & Safety Act (VESSA).
  • EOP Advocacy: EOP also works with the federal and state agencies which enforce the employment discrimination laws to improve their procedures and enforcement efforts. For example, in 2006 EOP persuaded the Illinois Department of Human Rights to redact the names of workers who sue for arrest record discrimination from the IDHR’s published opinions. The IDHR’s publication of the workers’ names and the details of their arrests had deterred workers from complaining of arrest record discrimination.

The Fair Housing Project[edit]

Chicago remains one of the most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the United States, despite active efforts opposing it. Groups in addition to African-Americans also experience significant discrimination, including Latinos, families, and people with disabilities. The mission of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s Fair Housing Project is to eliminate housing discrimination based on race, national origin, familial status, physical and mental disability, sexual orientation, source of income, religion, gender, and other bases, to affirmatively further fair housing in the Chicago metropolitan area.

To achieve that mission, staff and volunteers with the Fair Housing Project:

  • educate tenants, homeowners, landlords, and others about their rights and duties under fair housing and fair lending laws,
  • advocate for progressive laws and public policies,
  • conduct intake, referral, and investigation of housing discrimination complaints, and
  • provide legal representation to individuals and groups in asserting and enforcing their fair housing rights and securing equal housing opportunities.

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee is part of an area-wide network called CAFHA (Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance), which works to combat housing discrimination and promote integrated communities of opportunity through research, education, and advocacy.

Hate Crimes Project[edit]

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee's Hate Crimes Project is the only comprehensive resource center on hate crime prevention and response in the Midwestern United States. The Project advocates for strong criminal prosecutions of perpetrators of bias violence, litigates civil cases for hate crime victims, mobilizes community support for them, educates community residents and professionals about applicable laws, and advocates for improved enforcement of the Illinois Hate Crime Act. A city-wide Advisory Board, consisting of attorneys who have represented victims and community activists representing diverse neighborhoods and constituents, provides guidance and assistance.

The project combats hate crimes in several ways:

  • Litigation: The Hate Crimes Project also provides free legal representation to victims of hate crime, both in criminal prosecutions of offenders and in civil suits. The Project has litigated several significant cases.
  • Education: The project trains both the general public and prosecutors on the Illinois Hate Crime Act, the importance of reporting, and the rights and needs of victims. Public forums and educational presentations are made in high-risk neighborhoods, utilizing the in-kind participation of police officers, community-based agency staff, private attorneys, clergy, community leaders, and health and social service professionals. Over 100 such outreach programs have been conducted, for more than 3,500 participants, in many ethnically and racially diverse communities in the Chicago area, the Midwest's largest immigration destination. Presentations are orally translated as needed, and hate crime information materials have been printed in 14 languages. Project staff and volunteers work with community-based coalitions long term to improve human relations when the need and capacity exist.
  • Advocacy: The project advocates for strong criminal prosecutions of perpetrators of bias violence and improved enforcement of the Illinois Hate Crime Act.

The Law Project[edit]

Staff and volunteer attorneys provide free, expert legal assistance to support community development efforts led by entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations in Chicago's most underserved communities that generally do not have the resources to pay for legal services. The project's programs include:

  • Nonprofit Assistance Program: The Law Project provides pro bono (free) legal assistance to nonprofit organizations working in low income communities in the Chicago area in three ways. First, it provides legal services for existing nonprofits for transactional legal issues, such as corporate structuring, tax exemption, lease and contract review, trademark regulation and employment. Second, it assists startup nonprofits with legal work needed to obtain recognition of tax exemption. Third, The Law Project has a Nonprofit Legal Assessment Program in which attorneys develop a comprehensive overview of a nonprofit’s compliance issues and help to implement changes to mitigate organizational risks.
  • Small Business Assistance Program: The Law Project provides legal assistance to low income entrepreneurs on business issues, including corporate structuring, lease provisions, trademark regulations, employment, contracting.
  • Homeownership Program: The Law Project provides legal assistance to Housing Choice Voucher holders and other first time home buyers who receivethe financial subsidies for purchase of a single family home or condominium and who are working with HUD certified housing counseling agencies.

Settlement Assistance Project[edit]

The Settlement Assistance Project provides pro bono representation to low income individuals with meritous discrimination claims in federal court settlement conferences and US Equal Employment Commission mediations. Volunteer lawyers serve protected classes by assisting them in representing themselves in a court of law, allowing them to defend themselves from discrimination on the basis of race, age, gender, immigration issues, familial status, and other factors.

Voting Rights Project[edit]

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee Voting Rights Project aims to prevent, reduce, and eliminate barriers to voting for minority and low-income residents and to increase overall participation in Democracy. The project works to protect fair elections that allow every eligible voter the opportunity to vote and to have their vote counted.

This project will address the following issues:

  • Election Protection: The Voting Rights Project participates in the National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law's Election Protection program. The Election Protection program is the largest nonprofit, legal voter protection program in the country. The Voting Rights Project partners with area law firms and nonprofit organizations to provide Election Protection during early voting and on Election Day. Election Protection volunteers answer voter questions and respond to issues reported to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline. In addition, teams of attorneys volunteer as poll watchers to monitor the election across the region.
  • Advocacy: The Voting Rights Project works with election officials and community partners to advocate for better election practices and procedures. Through litigation, policy advocacy and community activism, we work to ensure that every registered voter has the right to case a meaningful ballot and rules are applied to voters in a fair and nondiscriminatory manner. The project advocates for policies that tend to decrease minority or low-income citizen participation in the electoral process. In addition, the project works in other areas, including redistricting, to promote fair representation.
  • Voter Education and Empowerment: The Voting Rights Project encourages self-advocacy and educates community members about voting rights and the registration and election process. We work with coalition partners to encourage civic engagement and foster voter registration and participation in traditionally underrepresented communities.

Educational Equity Project[edit]

EEP promotes civil rights in education and strong educational outcomes for minority children. Poor and minority students are too frequently denied access to a quality education. This lack of access stifles the civic capacity of entire groups of people and reinforces the status quo of educational stratification. The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee supports increasing all children’s access to a quality education. The CLC believes that this is attainable by:

  • increasing racial diversity in public schools;
  • supporting local groups’ efforts to lobby for educational equity in their own communities;
  • doing everything possible to rehabilitate broken schools, and closing them as a last resort;
  • encouraging schools to use restorative justice practices to provide the greatest opportunity for students to remain in school;
  • promoting early intervention for students with disciplinary issues;
  • ensuring that all students have access to fair disciplinary hearings;
  • breaking the school-to-prison pipeline;using teachers’ unions to ensure that students educational needs are being met;
  • and ensuring that the focus of education policies or projects always revolves around increasing children’s access to quality education.

Incarceration Prevention Project[edit]

Minority groups face incarceration rates of up to six times those of their white counterparts. After incarceration, individuals are restricted in housing, employment, and government benefit opportunities, leading to increased rates of poverty and recidivism. The Project staff and volunteer attorneys seek to combat these disparities through advocacy and education both to reduce the rates of incarceration and to reduce the stigma of incarceration.

Health Disparities Project[edit]

Environmental Justice Project[edit]

Cook County has some of the most polluted air in the country. The responsible industries are concentrated primarily in low-income and minority neighborhoods, pumping chemicals, toxins and lead into the air and soil in these areas. These industries also place toxic dumps in these communities without considering their effects. This disproportionately impacts marginalized populations and creates new incarnations of racial injustice.


External links[edit]