Our Impact At Home

Since our founding at Columbia University at the height of the Civil Rights Era, NCLEJ has delivered justice for low-income New Yorkers. Over 40% of our casework focuses on empowering low-income communities within the state we call home, and we have deep, collaborative relationships with legal aid and nonprofit advocacy groups within New York City and across the State.  

Here are highlights of our recent victories and ongoing advocacy in New York:  

In December 2023, NCLEJ filed a contempt motion against the City of New York and the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) for failing to provide expedited SNAP and cash assistance benefits to low-income families. In 1998, NCLEJ litigated Reynolds v. Giuliani and secured a 2005 court order mandating the City and HRA to provide expedited SNAP benefits within seven days to applicants without food or money to purchase food, and to grant immediate needs cash benefits the day the application was submitted. From April to September 2023, 13,721 households went without SNAP or cash assistance for more than a week in violation of the 2005 court order. Additionally, data from October 2022 shows that only 20% of eligible New Yorkers received the emergency benefits they were legally entitled to. Litigation remains ongoing to resolve the City’s expedited SNAP delays. 

NCLEJ is defending its victory in Andersen v. Roberts before New York’s Appellate Division this spring. The issue on appeal is whether disabled New Yorkers have the same right to receive credit for work performed as a requirement of receiving public assistance as non-disabled people do. Though a 2015 ruling held that Public Assistance recipients who are required to participate in the Work Experience Program are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act and must receive credit for their work, New York State continues to deny credit to people with disabilities.

In October 2023, NCLEJ secured a settlement to benefit thousands of low-income New Yorkers who have been or would have been denied cash assistance because of vehicle ownership.  

NCLEJ continues to enforce the pathbreaking 2014 settlement in Baez v. NYCHA, which obligates the New York City Housing Authority to ensure timely and effective remediation of toxic mold and moisture in public housing. The Baez consent decree, also the first of its kind in the nation, sets out detailed protocols mandating abatement of these deplorable living conditions, under the oversight of a court-appointed Special Master and mold and data analyst experts, as a reasonable accommodation to public housing tenants’ respiratory disabilities under the ADA.   

NCLEJ has been engaged in a multi-year effort to secure justice for NYC homecare workers, all low-income immigrant women of color who experienced wage theft by being forced to work 24-hour shifts for only 13 hours of pay. In August 2023, we sued the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) to force them to reopen their wage theft investigation after hundreds of unpaid wage claims were suddenly closed. This follows the filing of a Federal Title VI complaint in October 2022. 

In April 2023, we filed a Federal Title VII complaint against Apple Metro, the NYC-area Applebee’s franchisee, over their racially discriminatory pay structure. Apple Metro pays the full minimum wage of $15 an hour plus tips to predominantly non-Black and white Applebee’s workers in Midtown, while paying only the subminimum wage of $10 an hour to predominantly Black and Brown South Bronx Applebee’s workers. Following our legal charge, Apple-Metro subsequently fired our client from his position at Applebee’s in the South Bronx. In response, we amended our legal complaint to include a retaliatory firing charge.   

In May 2023, we filed a Federal Title VI complaint against the NYSDOL for discriminating against workers who have limited English proficiency (LEP) by failing to provide meaningful multilingual access to unemployment insurance. We documented NYDSOL’s systemic failure to meet the needs of LEP New Yorkers in our October 2022 report “Designed to Exclude.” 

As a member of the 13th Forward Coalition’s steering committee, we’re fighting to pass the No Slavery in New York Act and the Fairness & Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act during the 2024 New York State Legislative Session. These bills will abolish slavery and involuntary servitude of any kind in the New York State Constitution and improve labor conditions within correctional facilities by requiring that workers be paid the minimum wage. The latter bill will also secure the rights to organize and health and safety protections and ensure that work opportunities inside lead to post-release employment. 

In November 2023, NCLEJ achieved a class action settlement with the New York City Transit Authority to significantly enhance fairness and due process for thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers who are disproportionately targeted for transit infractions.   

We filed a Title VI administrative complaintwith the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies, challenging the racially discriminatory construction and operation of a fracked gas pipeline running through Black and Latinx neighborhoods in Brooklyn. National Grid built the pipeline without notice to the impacted communities, without a public hearing, and without considering the environmental and public health consequences for the low-income people of color who live along the pipeline route, whose rates will be raised to pay for it. An informal negotiation process to resolve the complaint is underway. 

In 2022, NCLEJ secured a settlement requiring the Suffolk County Department of Social Services to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities to allow them to access critically needed SNAP, Medicaid, and emergency shelter. NCLEJ continues to monitor compliance with the settlement. 

We are building on our current class action litigation, initially filed in 2018, that challenges discriminatory ticketing for profit in Buffalo. For at least a decade, the City of Buffalo has systematically targeted Black and Latinx neighborhoods for unjustified, aggressive traffic enforcement to capture revenue for the city budget. Though the City has ceased some of the most extreme practices in response to our advocacy, the policy and practice of ticketing for profit in communities of color remain widespread, and the Buffalo police continue to operate with no meaningful oversight. We also support community-led policy reform in Buffalo as a member of the Fair Fines and Fees Coalition (FFFC). NCLEJ currently serves on FFFC’s steering committee and has played a significant role in past victories, such as eliminating Buffalo’s troubling speed camera program. 

Our Community Partners  

NCLEJ proudly partners with community organizations on the ground to advance our mission. We understand that the fight for economic, racial, and disability justice is not dictated by strategies created at a distance, but in collaboration with the local communities most affected by the problems we seek to address. Collaborating with local and community-led organizations improves our ability to provide practical and direct legal assistance, as well as expands our geographic reach. In return, we boost the capacity of our partners to achieve their goals   

In recent years, we’ve partnered with many local organizations, including: 

A Little Piece of Light
American Civil Liberties Union
Asian American Legal Defense Fund
Black Love Resists in the Rust 
Brownsville Green Justice
Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association
Citizen Action
Color of Change
Consumer Reports
Don Bosco Workers Inc.
Empire Justice Center 
Environmental Advocates NY
Flushing Workers Center
Frack Outta Bk
Indigenous Kinship Collective
Laundry Workers Centers
Legal Services of Central New York 
Make the Road NY
Manhattan Together 
Mi Casa Resiste
Mobilization for Justice
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
National Employment Lawyers Association – NY
National Mobilization Against Sweatshops
Neighborhood Legal Services
New Economy Project 
New York Legal Assistance Group
Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation
Ocean Hill-Brownsville Coalition of Young Professionals
One Fair Wage 
Public Utilities Law Project
South Bronx Churches Sponsoring Committee, Inc.
The Action Lab
The Legal Aid Society 
Western New York Law Center