DLA Piper certifies damages class in case against NYC Board of Education

DLA Piper has won its motion to certify a damages class in a hard-fought and long-standing pro bono matter in an important decision by the Southern District of New York on 29 August. The case in point is Gulino v The Board of Education of the City School District of the City of New York.

Joshua Sohn, a litigation partner in DLA Piper’s New York office, led a team that included associates Anthony Gill, Spencer Stiefel, Rachel Stevens and Joshua Kane, and paralegal Valerie Ruppert.

Sohn has been working on this case since 2000, the year he joined the firm.

The case is a class action under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act brought by DLA Piper and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of minority applicants seeking to become New York City public school teachers.

It alleges that for more than a decade the New York City Board of Education administered discriminatory standardised exams as part of the teacher application process; exams for which minority applicants passed in significantly smaller numbers than white applicants. The result was that otherwise qualified minority applicants were demoted to substitute status or prevented from teaching and accordingly lost wages, benefits and seniority enjoyed by full-time, tenured public school teachers.

Originally filed in 1996, DLA Piper became involved in 2000, helping take the case to what Judge Constance Baker Motley termed an ‘epic’ eight-week trial in 2002 and 2003. On appeal, the Second circuit reversed, finding that the district court applied the incorrect legal standard to assess ‘job relatedness’ under Title VII. The Second Circuit remanded the case for further findings consistent with the proper legal standards, which Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District rendered in December 2012 when she issued a 51-page decision that held, in summary: (1) the standardised exams had not been properly validated in accordance with Second Circuit law, were not job related, and thus the City was liable for discriminating against the plaintiff class under Title VII; and (2) the class would not be decertified for purposes of determining liability and class-wide injunction relief, but the class would be decertified insofar as the plaintiffs sought individual monetary damages.