Human Rights / Civil Rights

Cases involving potential violations of civil rights or human rights bring out strong emotions and difficult questions.  Victims of human trafficking, domestic enslavement, or wrongful conviction are often left with nothing–even when the people and organizations committing the crimes are criminally prosecuted—and need legal help to achieve financial recoveries.  Similarly, those who are denied access to housing, jobs and other basic needs or endeavors, such as dining at a coffee shop, because of their protected class are entitled to pursue legal claims.

PII has assisted attorneys with such litigation for much of its 30-year history, interviewing witnesses about sensitive subjects and collecting relevant declarations, documents and public records.

Building and collecting evidence for civil litigation takes patience, tenacity and creativity.  In numerous cases, evidence that PII has gathered has led to victims winning large judgments or significant settlements.

PII has worked with civil rights attorneys and public interest groups, including Public Counsel, Housing Rights organizations, and the ACLU on such cases.

Examples of PII’s investigations:

• Owners of a group of 10 apartment buildings in the Lancaster/Palmdale area in Southern California were accused of refusing to rent to African-Americans and Latinos.  PII investigators fanned out in the area, interviewing current and former tenants to collect declarations about their experiences and those of their current or former neighbors.
• PII probed allegations of racially discriminatory service at the Denny’s restaurant chain in an investigation that spanned 30 states on behalf of a civil rights monitor overseeing a Consent Decree settlement.

Case in Point

The former owner of the L.A. Clippers basketball team, Donald Sterling, was sued for housing discrimination by private attorneys and, later, by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.  Sterling owned numerous apartment buildings in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles.  PII worked with these attorneys, interviewing tenants, applicants and former apartment managers, and collected evidence of a discriminatory pattern of favoritism toward Korean tenants over African-American and Latinos.  The litigation resolved in federal court in 2009 with Sterling paying $2.75 million to settle the case, the largest settlement ever obtained by the U.S. Department of Justice in an apartment rental housing discrimination case. Read LA Times article here.

Case in Point

In the 1995 Thai worker slave case, 72 Thai nationals were enslaved in an apartment complex surrounded by barbwire and armed guards in El Monte, California, and forced to sew clothes for 20 hours a day.

Though a law enforcement raid freed the 72 victims, they were left without resources or documentation, and faced the very real threat that they or their family members living outside the U.S. would suffer retaliation by criminal recruiters beyond the reach of U.S. law.  To aid attorneys with a civil case on behalf of these Thai nationals, a team of PII investigators combed the apartment complex for evidence and records that were instrumental in obtaining a settlement from Montgomery Ward, Mervyn’s, Bum International, Miller’s Outpost, and other retail outlets who sold goods manufactured at the El Monte sweatshop.

Case in Point

In 2011, groundbreaking litigation was filed against the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense by a group of 17 military veterans alleging they were sexually assaulted while on active duty.  PII played a central role in assisting plaintiff’s lawyers in gathering evidence and documenting incidents of sexual assault in the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.  The firm conducted interviews across the U.S. with servicewomen and men about these sensitive, personal and difficult traumas, obtaining their statements and their cooperation in proceeding with this lawsuit.  This case later became the subject of the documentary film, The Invisible War.