Litigation partner, Jeffrey Horowitz, recently spoke with the New York Law Journal regarding one of the firm’s recent pro bono representations involving the indigent deaf community and the challenges associated with such cases.
Horowitz and his team had secured a landmark settlement with New York City that requires it to provide deaf interpreters in the city's homeless shelters, to train shelter employees on how best to interact with the deaf and to install safety features for the deaf such as visual fire alarms and doorbells. Bruce and Liz Gitlin, a husband-and-wife team who run a public interest law firm on the Upper West Side, the New York Center for Law and Justice, tapped Kaye Scholer’s pro bono team for the case. The Center, which the Gitlins opened in 2001, has represented the deaf for more than a decade, particularly low-income deaf clients facing eviction, loss of benefits, domestic violence and other poverty-related issues.
The Gitlins learned of Grace Ihetu's struggles in the city's shelter system in December 2010, three months after she was separated from her three teenaged children because she could not communicate her need for a family shelter due to a lack of interpreters. They filed suit in the Eastern District in April 2013.
Horowitz, who is chair of the board of The New York Center for Law and Justice and has been friends with the Gitlins for years, said Ihetu had a "great case." He noted that it had the potential to help an individual family at a personal level but the team also recognized the potential for it to be an impact case.
The stipulation in Ihetu v. City of New York, 13-1732, was made alongside a consent decree in United States v. City of New York, 15-5986, a civil rights case brought by the Eastern District U.S. Attorney's Office, which had been investigating the city shelter system for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Federal prosecutors cited one case in which a four-year-old girl was forced to act as an interpreter between her deaf mother and shelter employees. As a result of the center's advocacy, Ihetu and her children were placed in a family shelter in February 2011 and received permanent housing in September 2011.
After working with the Gitlins, Horowitz said he understands their "passion" for the indigent deaf.
"There's such a misconception and misunderstanding to what it means to be a deaf person living in the city," he said. "It's hard for me to put into words what they bring to the table. They really think of others before themselves."
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