Impact Fund Latest News
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Civil Rights Groups File Amicus Brief As SCOTUS Scrutinizes Workers’ Rights
Washington, D.C., 08.16.17 - To protect the rights of workers, the Impact Fund has teamed up with leading civil rights law firms, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) and Cohen Milstein, to file an amicus brief on behalf of more than thirty civil rights organizations from across the country in a trio of cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“What’s at stake is the right of workers to bond together to hold employers accountable for systemic discrimination,” said Impact Fund executive director, Jocelyn Larkin, adding: “There has been a disturbing trend in recent years for employers to evade their responsibilities by requiring those that work for them to waive their legal right to join together with co-workers to challenge discrimination.”
The cases address the question of whether employment agreements that prevent workers from taking “concerted” action to challenge workplace violations conflict with protections in federal labor law. Such agreements undermine the fight for civil rights.
“Workers have to be able to come together to bring disparate impact and pattern or practice claims,” said Raymond Audain, Senior Counsel at LDF and counsel of record on the brief, adding: “In most individual cases, employees are denied access to the information necessary to show widespread discrimination.”
"Had the arbitration clauses at issue before the Supreme Court been in effect before, more than 120 important civil rights cases, listed in this brief, would have never been brought," said Joseph Sellers, chair of the civil rights and employment practice group at Cohen Milstein. Joining the brief are more than thirty non-profits from around the country who use litigation to fight discrimination against racial minorities, women, seniors, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ communities.
The Supreme Court will review the 9th Circuit’s decision involving Ernst & Young and the 7th Circuit’s ruling involving Epic Systems Corp. It will also consider the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit’s judgment enforcing Murphy Oil USA Inc.’s waiver, which was challenged by the National Labor Relations Board. The cases are Epic Systems v. Lewis, 16-285; Ernst & Young v. Morris, 16-300; and NLRB v. Murphy Oil, 16-307.
“If employers can preclude workers from acting together in every forum, they can—and will—effectively extinguish the civil rights claims of the most vulnerable members of the workforce,” concluded Larkin.
Read the full release and see the list of amici here.
Impact Fund Condemns Neo-Nazi Mob In Charlottsville; Empathizes With Victims
Berkeley, CA, 08.14.17 - Over the weekend we watched, with alarming déjà vu, as hundreds of white nationalists from around the country marched on a peaceful community in Virginia, carrying swastikas, torches, using anti-Black, anti-Semitic, and homophobic slurs as they violently attacked counter-protestors. We send our sympathies to the family and friends of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was murdered, and at least 19 other people who were injured.
It is important for us to understand as activists, that this current backlash by white nationalists is a direct measure of our successes in local communities around the nation. We will be doubling down in our support of cases that explicitly address racism, environmental justice, civil and human rights, and poverty. We are reminded that white supremacy is (and has always been) a fight at our front doors. Those committed to propagating white nationalism are anti-Black, anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic, misogynist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant. Those who share this agenda will self-declare their support by their tardy and/or ambivalent condemnation of the root cause of the violence.
“Effective responses to this will be grounded in peaceful direct action and broad coalition-building,” said executive director, Jocelyn Larkin.
House Votes To Give Wall Street A Shameless Corporate Handout
July 25, 2017. U.S. House of Representatives passes H.J. Res. 111, a resolution to repeal the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule to restore consumers’ ability to join together and hold banks and lenders accountable in class action lawsuits when they break the law.
“This is a depressing, but not unexpected outcome,” said Impact Fund Executive Director, Jocelyn Larkin “It’s clear that the majority of the House are there to do the bidding of Wall Street and we now look to the Senate for leadership in standing up for the rights of ordinary people.”
On July 10, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a rule to restrict banks and lenders’ use of forced arbitration -- fine-print clauses in contracts for credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial products that prevent people from banding together to challenge fraud by big banks.
The vast majority of Americans don’t even realize they’ve lost their right to sue when they sign a contract with a bank or lender. But these “ripoff clauses” require consumers to submit all disputes to an arbitrator paid by the company against whom they have a complaint in a secret proceeding.
The new rule comes after a three-year study by the CFPB concluded that only 9 percent of consumers who do seek arbitration win any relief, recovering an average of just 12 cents on the dollar. By contrast, companies win 93 percent of their cases and win 98 cents on the dollar.
Wells Fargo, the giant bank that opened millions of fake accounts in its customers’ names without their permission, has relied heavily on forced arbitration to prevent the public from knowing details of its wrongdoing. The vast majority of payday and private student lenders also use forced arbitration, leaving consumers with no viable alternative.
The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to repeal a regulation if both chambers pass a resolution of disapproval and the President signs it. While the House voted to repeal the rule today, the resolution faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.
Rest in Power, Betty Dukes, 1950 -2017
Berkeley, July 14, 2017: Sad news... Betty Dukes, the extraordinarily courageous lead plaintiff in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., passed away earlier this week. She became the face for an estimated 1.5 million women who had worked for Walmart since 1998, making it the largest class-action employment lawsuit in U.S. history. It reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011, where the justices, in a 5-4 split, dismissed the suit. "I had the pleasure of knowing her for 16 years and was humbled by her energy, her faith, and her determination. Our entire team is deeply saddened by the loss. Her local newspaper wrote a lovely tribute." - Jocelyn Larkin, Executive Director, The Impact Fund.
Impact Fund Applauds New Rule to Restore Consumers’ Ability to Enforce Rights and Protections in Court
Berkeley, July 10, 2017: Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) finalized its rule to restore consumers’ right to join together in challenging financial fraud and scams in court. The result of five years of careful study and consideration, the rule as proposed would restrict the financial industry’s use of forced arbitration – a tactic Wall Street banks and payday lenders use to block consumers from challenging illegal behavior in court.
Corporate attorneys bury “ripoff clauses” in the fine print of financial contracts to evade public accountability for charges of fraud and lawbreaking by forcing consumers into secret arbitration proceedings rigged in the banks’ favor. These clauses often ban class action lawsuits as well, leaving consumers unable to challenge widespread misconduct since it is often too expensive to pursue small-dollar disputes one-by-one in arbitration. Wells Fargo has repeatedly invoked ripoff clauses in legitimate account contracts to block customers from suing together over fraudulent accounts, and the practice helped the bank hide its misconduct for years.
“Forced arbitration tips the scales of justice to big business. We applaud the new CFPB rule, which protects your right as an American to band together in a class action to stop corporate scams and hold the bad actors accountable." Says Impact Fund Executive Director, Jocelyn D. Larkin.
While the CFPB took a more modest approach rather than banning all forms of forced arbitration, the rule restores consumers’ right to join together in class action lawsuits and returns transparency to individual arbitration by establishing a public record of claims and outcomes. During the public comment period last August, Impact Fund joined with 280 consumer, civil rights, labor, and community groups and more than 100,000 individual consumers across the country to support the proposed rule.
STAFF CHANGES AT IMPACT FUND
Berkeley, 06.30.17 - As often happens when people come to work at the Impact Fund, they are inspired to further their passion and qualify as attorneys to fight for social justice. In this tradition, we say a fond farewell to both Sela Steiger and Zachary McCoy as they leave us to go to law school. We wish them every success! Succeeding them, we welcome Mary Zhou as our new Development & Executive Assistant and Kellye Denson as our new Paralegal.
In other TeamIF news we are also pleased to announce that Teddy Basham-Witherington is being promoted to the newly created role of Deputy Director to strengthen the organization and provide additional support for our Executive Director, Jocelyn Larkin.
For a full team listing and bios click here.
ACTION ALERT: Bill TO EVISCERATE CLASS ACTION REMEDY HEADS TO HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES FOR VOTE - CALL YOUR REP!
Call your House Representative - Democrats need shoring up and Republicans need to hear from constituents - voicing your opposition to the bill. The bill severely undermines the enforcement of U.S. civil rights law by making it practically impossible to bring a class action lawsuit. But note that not all Democrats will vote against the bill, nor Republicans for it. Assume nothing, but advocate for a 'no' vote. You can find your House Representative by entering your zip code here.
Civil Rights Class Action Heroes Honored
- Impact Fund Class Action Hall of Fame 2017 Inductees Announced
San Francisco, 02.24.17 – Six civil rights heroes are today being inducted into the Class Action Hall of Fame, lead plaintiffs whose commitment and determination has led to significant advances in economic, environmental, racial and social justice.
The 2017 inductees are:
Jessy Cruz, who stood up to make California’s schools better for everyone’s little brother
Mike Dragovich, who fought for medical coverage for same-sex spouses
Veronica Lewandowski, who fought for equal access to sports for girls
Sylvester McClain, who fought racial discrimination in employment
Julie Reiskin, who fought for access for people with disabilities
Sara Wellens, who fought gender discrimination in the pharmaceutical industry
H.R. 985 will deny access to justice for many and undermine the rule of law
02.14.17 - The Impact Fund submits a letter on behalf of 121 civil rights non-profit organizations and advocates, joined by 87 ally law firms, to oppose H.R. 985 (“Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017”). The bill severely undermines the enforcement of U.S. civil rights law by making it practically impossible to bring a class action lawsuit.
Recognizing the Champions of Social Justice - Impact Fund Unveils Class Action Hall of Fame
Berkeley, 09.28.16 – The Impact Fund is launching a Class Action Hall of Fame to honor lead plaintiffs whose commitment and determination has led to significant advances in economic, environmental, racial and social justice.
Impact Fund Executive Director, Jocelyn Larkin said: “Since 1966, many ordinary people have put their lives and livelihoods on hold to champion the interests of communities: the poor, women, people with disabilities, and all those marginalized as ‘other’ by the privileged and the powerful. It’s about time they were recognized for their bravery and endurance in the face of overwhelming odds. They are the unsung heroes of our movement.”
To honor this rich history, the Impact Fund will induct a variety of honorees and will, starting in 2017, induct two nominees each year to add to the pantheon of heroes.
“Taking on powerful corporations and government entities is a daunting prospect. The lead plaintiffs have to endure just about every legal stratagem that the wallet of big business can pay for, plus in many cases, years of uncertainty, court appearances and stress. That takes both guts and spirit and we’re happy to recognize both in the criteria we have set,” said Michael Caesar, Chair of the Impact Fund’s Grant Advisory Committee, which will guide the process.
To be eligible, the case in question must be a class action that has advanced economic, environmental, racial, and/or social justice. Additionally, nominees must have demonstrated an uncommon heroism and sacrifice for their cause. Nominees will be screened and the Grant Advisory Committee of the Impact Fund, which makes grants four times a year to support impact litigation, will make selections at its December meeting each year. The full Guidelines and nomination form can be found here.
Nominations for the 2017 inductees, to be announced at the Impact Fund 2017 Class Action Conference in San Francisco, February 23/24, are now open and close October 31, 2016.
“We all remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill and cases like Roe v. Wade, but we have little knowledge about the real people behind the public interest class action lawsuits that have changed American history. It’s time we did something about that,” concluded Larkin.
Justice Is Served! Banner Year for Impact Fund Grant Making; Cumulative grants surpass $6M.
San Francisco, 07.18.16 – The Impact Fund made grants to advance economic, environmental and social justice totaling $323,000 in the year-ended 06.30.16, up 18.5% on the prior year.
“Marginalized communities are standing up and speaking out for justice as never before,” said Jocelyn D. Larkin, Executive Director of the Impact Fund, adding: “we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of applications, reflecting this need.“
Starting in 1992, The Impact Fund has played a unique role in making grants and providing broad support of public interest impact litigation: a formula of grants, education and advocacy, making total grants in excess of $6Million.
“Impact Litigation matters,” continued Larkin, citing the kinds of cases the Impact Fund has supported: “It matters to women who have been unfairly passed over for promotion, it matters to foster youth denied mental health services, it matters to low-wage workers not paid for the hours they’ve worked, it matters to Native American communities whose groundwater is poisoned. It matters to everyone whose rights are threatened by profit-obsessed corporations and small-minded government. In other words, impact litigation matters to all of us.
Agreeing, Grant Committee Chair, Michael Caesar said: “It’s an all-too-familiar story of David v. Goliath,” adding, “like a small NGO in Mexico whose three lawyers are standing up to the national government and a multi-national giant, Monsanto. In that case we were happy to provide badly needed funds to protect the livelihoods of peasant farmers and bio-diversity in Mexico.”
Commenting further, Larkin concluded: “Whether it is standing up for proper medical care for prisoners, insisting on clean water for rural communities, or saying “enough” to the use of excessive force on #BlackLivesMatter demonstrators, we continue to create opportunity and magnify justice through the power of impact litigation.”
Deepak Gupta Joins Impact Fund Board
06.23.16 – Deepak Gupta, founding principal of Gupta Wessler PLLC, a national appellate and constitutional litigation boutique, has joined the board of the Impact fund.
Impact Fund Executive Director, Jocelyn Larkin said: “Deepak has been a friend of the Impact Fund for some time and his work at Gupta Wessler on behalf of public-interest clients in the U.S. Supreme Court and courts across the country aligns perfectly with our vision for economic, environmental and social justice across our nation. We’re delighted that he is joining us on the board.”
“It really is a great match,” said Deepak Gupta, “Through our work at Gupta Wessler, we’ve focused on making the civil justice system work for those who need it most. I’m excited to help further the Impact Fund’s mission, supporting some of the most innovative impact litigation around the country.”
Mr. Gupta joins twelve other social justice lawyers and advocates who serve on the board of the Impact Fund. A full listing of the board of their respective affiliations can be found here.
A few of Mr. Gupta’s career highlights include:
· Advocating for plaintiffs on access to justice in the U.S. Supreme Court, including on forced arbitration and the class action device.
· Chevron v. Donziger, opposing Chevron’s efforts to collaterally attack an $8.6 billion oil pollution judgment won by indigenous residents of Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest.
· As appellate counsel to Everytown for Gun Safety–the nation’s largest gun-violence-prevention organization–opposing Second Amendment challenges to common-sense gun laws, such as waiting periods and public-carry restrictions.
Mr. Gupta’s full biography can be found here.
In addition to his litigation work, Deepak has testified before the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, appeared on television and radio including CNN, FOX News, ABC’s World News and Good Morning America, and NPR’s All Things Considered and Marketplace, and has been quoted regularly by publications including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
“I’m looking forward to spreading the word about the Impact Fund in the progressive community in Washington and beyond, and to plaintiffs’ attorneys across the country,” said Gupta. “We may be looking at a progressive Supreme Court for the first time in several generations. It is critical that we think through the most effective strategies to pursue progressive change through the courts, and the Impact Fund has an essential role in that conversation.”
IMPACT FUND SEEKS LITIGATION FELLOW FOR FALL 2017
05.26.16 - The Impact Fund seeks to sponsor a fellowship candidate for a fellowship beginning in the fall of 2017. The Impact Fund will work with the candidate to apply for funding through the Skadden Foundation, Equal Justice Works, and internally funded law school fellowships. Read more...
Impact Fund Charts Smooth Course For Transition
03.29.16: The Impact Fund announces that Lindsay Nako will start as the organization’s new Director of Litigation and Training at the end of March.
Lindsay Nako was formerly a shareholder at Lewis, Feinberg, Lee & Jackson. She has spent her career representing employees in employment discrimination and employee benefits class actions. She joined the Impact Fund in late 2015 as Special Counsel. Lindsay said: “I will miss litigating side-by-side with Robert, but I am looking forward to the work ahead and am excited for the opportunity to work with the talented team at the Impact Fund.”
The outgoing Litigation Director, Robert Schug, will be relocating to his home state of Minnesota with his family. He will join the Nichols Kaster law firm Minneapolis, where he will represent classes of workers who face discrimination and wage theft. Robert started with the Impact Fund in May 2013. Robert said: “I am thrilled that Lindsay will be taking over as Litigation Director at the Impact Fund. Lindsay’s skills and expertise will allow the organization to continue to represent the rights of workers and fight for social justice. I am grateful to the Impact Fund for a wonderful experience these past three years.”
Impact Fund Executive Director, Jocelyn D. Larkin, said: “We are very happy to have Lindsay Nako as a member of our team. Or course, we are also sad to see Robert leave us and wish him success.”
The Impact Fund, under Robert’s leadership, just hosted the annual Impact Fund Class Action Conference in February, which broke all previous attendance records. Over 180 practitioners attended, sharing their successes and building the movement for class action justice.
Biographical information related to Lindsay, Robert and other Impact Fund staff can be found here.
Annual Conference Highlights Global Adoption and Social Impact of Class Actions
02.23.15 – 190 class action practitioners representing nonprofits and law firms from four nations gathered to share experiences and best practices at the 14th Annual Impact Fund Class Action Conference held in San Francisco, February 18 and 19.
“We heard, again and again, why class actions matter. That same call for justice is now being taken up in Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom,” said Jocelyn D. Larkin, Executive Director of the Impact Fund.
The conference opened with a panel of experts who shared inspiring class action stories from around the world. Kirk M. Baert from Koskie Minsky in Toronto reported on how class actions in Canada had brought justice, and more than $4.7 billion to the victims of institutional abuse in government-sponsored schools. Leon Kaye from Leon Kaye Solicitors in London described how small investors had joined together to seek restitution from the Royal Bank of Scotland, after the bank had encouraged them to invest shortly before the bank’s collapse in 2008.
The all-too-familiar story of David v. Goliath was repeated by René Sanchez Galindo, whose small NGO with three lawyers is standing up to multi-national giant, Monsanto, to oppose the introduction of genetically modified corn: “We succeeded in getting a restraining order and now await the decision of the court to extend the ban with a temporary injunction. Monsanto has already recognized that GMO corn, if planted commercially, will mix with our native varieties. The evidence, some of it from experts at UC Berkeley, is clear that this will decimate bio-diversity in Mexico.”
Delegates at the conference also heard from a panel of Impact Fund grantees, who spoke about the ongoing battles they are fighting to end the workplace immigration raids of the notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio and to stop “bad apple” gun dealers from supplying the criminal gun market. “90% of guns used in the commission of a crime are sold by 5% of gun dealers,” explained Jonathan Lowy, Director of the Legal Action Project at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The third member of the panel, Kim Tandy, executive director of the Children’s Law Center reported: “a succession of class actions, which we brought and which were aided by funding from the Impact Fund, has brought about the wholesale reform of the juvenile justice system in Ohio.”
A full list of the sessions, presenters and sponsors is here.
SCOTUS steers clear of SANCTIONING CLASS ACTION WHAC-A-Mole
01.20.16 - Justice Ginsburg, joined by J. Breyer, J.Sotomayor, J. Kagan and J. Kennedy, held that an unaccepted offer of judgment does not moot a claim, adopting Justice Kagan's dissent in Genesis Healthcare v. Symczyk. While the named plaintiff's claim was "live," the Court held he or she should have a right to move for certification.
"Because Gomez’s individual claim was not made moot by the expired settlement offer, that claim would retain vitality during the time involved in determining whether the case could proceed on behalf of a class. While a class lacks independent status until certified, see Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U. S. 393, 399 (1975), a would-be class representative with a live claim of her own must be accorded a fair opportunity to show that certification is warranted."
The Court declined to reach the question of whether the answer would be different if the defendant had actually tendered full relief and moved for entry of judgment.
Justice Thomas concurred but relied instead on the common law of tender. He and the dissenters (CJ Roberts, J. Alito, J. Scalia) seem to be preparing for the next case, which will address whether the claim is mooted where the defendant deposits a certified check for the full amount with the Court.
CLASS ACTIONS MATTER: Impact Fund Winter Grants Respond to National Trends of Xenophobia and War on Poor
Berkeley, CA 01.13.16 – The Impact Fund, the nation’s only legal foundation dedicated to advancing the use of impact litigation as a tool to achieve economic, environmental and social justice, has just made grants totaling $119,500 in its winter cycle to fund ten lawsuits to protect the rights of marginalized communities threatened by uncaring corporate interests and small-minded government.
“While our mandate is economic, environmental and social justice, this round focuses on the wave of xenophobia grabbing national headlines and the insidious war on the poor and homeless,” said Impact Fund Executive Director, Jocelyn Larkin.
Impact Fund Co-authors Amicus Brief Regarding EEOC's Duty To Conciliate Discrimination Claims Before Filing Suit
November 3, 2014 - The Impact Fund and co-authors Penn State University Dickinson School of Law Civil Rights Appellate Clinic filed an important amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in EEOC v. Mach Mining, LLC, No. 13-1019, posing the question: “Whether and to what extent a court may enforce the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s mandatory duty to conciliate discrimination claims before filing suit.”
July 24, 2014 – In Lamar County, Texas, indigent defendants are routinely ordered to make pretrial payments toward the cost of appointed counsel without the court first reviewing evidence of the defendants’ ability to make those payments. These orders do not limit pretrial payments to the actual cost to the county of appointed counsel and it appears that defendants regularly make payments to the county in excess of the cost of counsel. Frequently, defendants are charged a second time for the cost of appointed counsel upon conviction...
June 2014 - Every year, the Impact Fund files amicus or "friend of the court" briefs in cases affecting impact litigation or civil rights enforcement. In June, the California Supreme Court issued rulings in three important cases in which we filed amicus briefs. The cases are Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co.,Ayala v. Antelope Valley Press, and Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC...
District Court Grants Final Approval of Proposed Settlement in Costco Gender Discrimination Class Action
May 27, 2014 - The district court granted final approval of the parties’ proposed class action settlement. Class members have until July 26, 2014 to file settlement claims. If you are a member of the class and have questions, visit genderclassactionagainstcostco.com or call 1-866-501-2300...
May 18, 2015 - On Wednesday, May 13, 2015 we celebrated our 22nd Anniversary with our friends and supporters, and recognized three very important figures in the fight for social justice...
Impact Fund Celebrates Twenty-One Years of Social Justice Litigation: Organization to Honor Former U.S. Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey L. Bleich, at Gala Event
May 8, 2014 - Berkeley, CA – The Impact Fund, the nationally recognized foundation that provides support for complex social justice litigation, is celebrating its 21st Anniversary today, May 8, 2014 at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, California...
PRESS RELEASE: Impact Fund Announces Settlement of 12-Year Old Disability Access Class Action Against California Taco Bell Restaurants
April 24, 2014 – On the eve of a trial scheduled for Friday, April 25th in federal court in Oakland, the parties to a disability access class action lawsuit brought against Taco Bell in California have announced a settlement of the long-running case. The action, originally filed in 2002, was brought on behalf of customers who use wheelchairs and scooters; the suit claimed that Taco Bell restaurants did not provide accessible facilities as required by law. The settlement will ensure that Taco Bell restaurants are maintained in compliance with all legal requirements for accessibility.
Impact Fund Co-authors Amicus Brief Addressing the Importance of Class Certification in Actions Involving Low-Wage Workers
April 22, 2014 – The Impact Fund and co-authors Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, filed an amicus brief in the Jacob v. Duane Reade wage-and-hour litigation in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief was filed on behalf of dozens of public interest organizations who represent low-wage workers across the country...
October 2013 - The Impact Fund joined the Equal Justice Society and other advocacy groups in filing an amicus brief in federal court opposing the race-based lockdown policy used in California prisons, saying the practice is unconstitutional because it uses race as a proxy for gang affiliation...