Practice Areas

Civil Rights

Kotin, Crabtree & Strong, LLP attorneys regularly represent individuals and families who seek to vindicate their civil and constitutional rights – in the workplace, in public accommodations, in schools, and in their relationship with state agencies and officials. Our work has included representing children with disabilities who were abused or improperly restrained by teachers and litigating against public schools that have discriminated on the basis of race or fostered hazing of students. We regularly represent individuals who have been subjected to discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of such protected categories as race, age, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and veteran status. The firm’s appellate amicus work focuses on strengthening civil rights enforcement mechanisms, to ensure their broadest availability. We have represented the victims of sexual and other assault by law enforcement personnel. Our work has resulted not only in compensation for the victims of these civil rights violations, but also in systemic change to the policies and practices of public schools, state agencies, state hospitals, and other governmental entities.

Representative Cases: Employment

Employment Law Cases

In our employment practice we regularly represent individuals who have been subjected to adverse employment action on the basis of such protected classifications as race, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and/or veteran’s status. We also have a robust appellate amicus practice, addressing issues of broad importance in the enforcement of our civil rights laws. These include the following:

Psy-Ed. Corp. v. Klein, 459 Mass. 697 (2011)

Represented a number of civil rights advocacay groups as amicus parties in a case establishing that the provisions of G.L.c. 151B which prohibit retaliation and interference with a protected right extends to conduct that occurs after the employment relationship has terminated.

Joulé, Inc. v. Simmons, 459 Mass. 88 (2011)

Represented a broad coalition of civil rights groups as amicus parties in a case establishing that a mandatory arbitration agreement between an employer and an employee does not divest the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination of its statutory authority to investigate and prosecute allegations of discrimination, or to seek victim-specific relief under G.L.c. 151B.

Thurdin v. SEI Boston, Inc., 454 Mass. 436 (2008)

Represented a number of civil rights advocacy groups as amicus parties in a case establishing that G.L.c. 93, § 102, the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act, provides a right of action to redress on-the-job discrimination in cases where, due to its size, the employer is not subject to the anti-discrimination provisions of G.L.c. 151B.

Trustees of Health and Hospitals v. Coney, 449 Mass. 615 (2007).

On appeal, represented the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and five former employees, all African-American women, who had filed a Charge of Discrimination alleging that their former employer had subjected them to unlawful discrimination when it singled them out for harsh and humiliating treatment in the course of implementing a group layoff. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination had found that the employer had engaged in unlawful conduct and had issued remedial orders that required payment of emotional distress damages and attorneys’ fees. In affirming the decision of the MCAD, the Supreme Judicial Court established that an employer may be liable for unlawful discrimination arising from the manner in which it implements a layoff, and clarified the many ways in which complainants may make a prima facie case under G.L.c. 151B.

Stonehill College v. Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 441 Mass. 549 (2004)

Represented a broad coalition of civil rights advocacy groups, as amicus parties, in a collection of cases raising issues about how G.L.c. 151B, the Commonwealth’s most comprehensive anti-discrimination statute, was properly implemented so that complainants received the full benefit of the enforcement options provided. The Court reaffirmed its holding in Dalis that, where the complainant has opted to pursue a private right of action in in court, the parties to that judicial proceeding have a right to a jury trial. Where the complainant has opted to proceed under the administrative enforcement scheme set forth in G.L.c. 151B, § 5, Court made clear that there is no constitutional obstacle to allowing the MCAD’s administrative proceedings to take its course. Overruling prior precedent, the Court found no constitutional obstacle to the statute’s administrative scheme, which empowers MCAD to issue binding remedial orders, including monetary relief, where necessary and appropriate.

Dalis v. Buyer Advertising, Inc., 418 Mass. 220 (1994)

Represented the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts as an amicus party in a case raising the question whether there was a right to a jury trial in claims arising under a variety of state anti-discrimination statutes. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court established that, under the Declaration of Rights, the right to a jury trial attaches to civil actions filed in court under G.L.c. 151B, § 9 (alleging discrimination in employment), as well as to claims arising under the Equal Pay Act, G.L.c. 149, §§ 105A-C, the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act, G.L.c. 93, § 102, and the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act, G.L.c.149, § 105D.

Diaz v. Jiten Hotel Management, Inc.

Represented a number of civil rights advocacy groups as amicus parties in a case that reaffirmed the important role of fee-shifting provisions in the enforcement of civil rights statutes.

Representative Cases: Abuse and Neglect of Students and Adults with Disabilities

Abuse and Neglect of Students and Adults with Disabilities

  • Widespread reform arose from the lawsuit we brought on behalf of six students who attended the Mission Hill School, a K-8 pilot school within the Boston Public School (“BPS”) system. These six early-primary-school-aged students were the victims of sexual and physical assaults by a peer over the course of two years and were educated in a toxic environment. The abuse began in October 2014 and continued until the perpetrator was finally transferred to another school. The amazing parents of our clients had tried unsuccessfully, in every way they could think of, to have their and other children protected, as well as to get the perpetrator the help he needed. The school administration was dismissive of these and other families and hostile to staff who raised concerns. BPS had let the Mission Hill School operate with shockingly little oversight. We filed suit in 2017 on behalf of two students and had four other students join the suit afterwards. After four years of hard-fought litigation and two mediations with a federal magistrate judge, BPS agreed to pay the families a combined $650,000 in August 2021. This settlement, the largest the City of Boston had paid in a decade, drew significant attention. Certain administrators at the Mission Hill School were dismissed and within weeks of the settlement, the BPS superintendent retained a law firm to conduct an extensive investigation into the Mission Hill School. That investigation resulted in a recently released 189-page report, which gave a scathing assessment of the failures of the administration at the school – relating not only to the particulars of our lawsuit, but the culture of pervasive bullying and sexual misconduct, and the systemic failure to meet the needs of the students there. As a result, the Mission Hill School has been closed.
  • This case arises out of the abuse and mistreatment of fifteen students with special needs in a program within the Holyoke Public Schools. The students, who were in grades four through eight, all had pre-existing emotional disabilities including anxiety and trauma-related disorders. The defendants included the municipal entities and various school employees. The students were subjected to unnecessary, abusive, harmful and otherwise improper restraints and seclusions. Students were struck, thrown to the floor, and pinned against walls and subjected to humiliating and dangerous “prone” restraints, where they were pinned face-down on the floor. There were numerous instances of staff egging students on or provoking physical interactions to create pretexts for the restraints. In contravention of restraint fundamentals, staff repeatedly failed to take adequate steps to deescalate situations and avoid the necessity of restraints. Restraints and seclusions were routinely used as punishments for being disruptive, disobedient or disrespectful. These included instances where students refused to change into a uniform or for throwing things. All of the students suffered psychological harm as a result of the restraints administered to them, from living in fear of additional restraints, and witnessing the restraint of other students and being educated in an environment that had a culture of violence at the school because of multiple instances of improper restraint.The case was founded upon the disclosures by a courageous and dedicated whistleblower and investigations by the Disability Law Center and the Massachusetts Department of Early and Secondary Education. The multi-party suit included counts for tort and violations of federal and Massachusetts civil rights statutes. The parties participated in a multi-day mediation, followed by several additional months of negotiating before settling the case for $950,000 to be apportioned among the families.
  • We represented seventeen plaintiffs in this matter who had varying significant disabilities, including mental illness, cognitive impairments, autism, and social emotional impairments with associated behavioral manifestations. Several had trauma backgrounds. These men attended a 24/7 residential program for varying lengths of time from a few months to several years. Their claims arose from their mistreatment there, relating mainly to the improper and excessive use of restraints. Pursuant to various regulations as well as the accepted standard of care, restraints were only to be administered when there was an imminent risk of injury to the resident or others. Proper restraint training and protocols focus on avoiding restraints and deescalating situations before a restraint becomes necessary. In addition, restraints are to be administered in certain ways, avoiding things such as prone restraints. In this residential program, restraints were used as punishments and intimidations and to exert control over the residents. Sometimes residents were goaded into being aggressive, to justify the application of a restraints. Residents were, on occasion, enlisted to assist in restraining other residents. Some of the restraints resulted in physical injuries that ranged from broken bones and cuts requiring stitching, to scrapes and bruises. The most significant damages from experiencing as well as witnessing these restraints were emotional. Some residents continue to suffer the effects of the abuse, including post traumatic stress disorder, long after leaving the program. Liability in the case was supported by investigations by several government agencies, testimony from the plaintiffs, statements from employees as well as some surveillance videotape.  After a multi-day mediation, the matter settled for ($4 million) that was apportioned among the plaintiffs by the mediator.
  • Three children with significant disabilities were abused by their teacher over the course of several years. A new classroom aide produced a written diary of this abuse, leading to the firing and ultimate criminal prosecution of the teacher. Civil suit was brought against various school administrators and entities for failing to properly respond to earlier reports of abuse by the teacher. After two weeks of trial, the case settled for $1.5 million.
  • Two children with autism were repeatedly restrained as part of a purported “behavior modification” plan. The plan included “floor restraints” where the students were pinned face down on the floor for uncooperative behavior. Both matters settled after suit was filed in federal district court.
  • Children with autism spectrum disorders were placed with an inexperienced and unqualified teacher who reluctantly took over the children’s classroom. The teacher pushed, dragged and otherwise manhandled one student, resulting in physical injuries to him as well as emotional trauma to him and his classmates. The case settled during administrative proceedings prior to filing suit in state or federal court.

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