Students in Birmingham, Ala., schools were sprayed with pepper spray as punishment for routine offenses. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of district students to end the practice and other abusive and unconstitutional behavior.
Staff members at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi abused their authority by selling drugs to the youths in their care, brutally beating them and even engaging in sexual relationships with them. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the teenagers and young men held at the facility. A groundbreaking settlement agreement was reached that will ensure children and teens incarcerated in Mississippi will no longer be housed in the privately run prison or subjected to brutal solitary confinement.
Students with disabilities were denied access to New Orleans public schools and often pushed into schools unable to provide them with the educational services they deserved under federal law. The Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Education to bring these schools into compliance with federal law and end practices that harm students with disabilities.
Public schools in Jackson, Miss., often failed to provide students with disabilities the services mandated by federal law and needed for these students to succeed in the classroom. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a formal complaint on behalf of these students with the Mississippi Department of Education, which found the district had violated major components of the federal law that ensures students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education.
Angel Francisco Castro-Torres was riding his bicycle in Smyrna, Ga., when he was stopped by two Cobb County police officers. According to their own report, the officers stopped him after observing his race. The officers demanded Castro’s identification and questioned his immigration status. He was also beaten – resulting in a broken nose and eye socket – and arrested. He required surgery to repair the damage to this eye. A settlement agreement was reached nearly nine months after the lawsuit was filed.
Mississippi authorities took a newborn baby from her Mexican immigrant mother and placed the daughter with two white Gulf Coast lawyers who frequently practiced law before the youth court judge who approved the child’s removal. The mother was then prohibited from speaking publicly about her family's ordeal despite her request to waive confidentiality rules of the youth court. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family and appealed the earlier gag order.
The SPLC filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 350 Filipino teachers who were lured to Louisiana to teach in public schools under the federal H-1B guest worker program. The teachers were cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars and forced into exploitive contracts. A jury in 2012 ordered a labor recruiting firm and its owner to pay $4.5 million in damages to the teachers.
Children at Sarah T. Reed Elementary School in New Orleans were subjected to unlawful arrest and excessive force – including handcuffing and shackling – for minor violations of school rules. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of a first-grade student handcuffed and shackled to a chair by an armed security officer after the student argued with another youth. A settlement agreement resulted in the school district prohibiting the use of fixed restraints and limiting the use of handcuffs.
Mississippi's mental health system is failing children from low-income households. The state fails to invest in community-based services and instead pumps the bulk of its resources into ineffective, expensive institutions. Parents are often forced to choose between hospitalizing their children or foregoing mental health services altogether.
Frantz Pierre, a migrant farmworker from Haiti, was denied compensation by the South Carolina Worker’s Compensation Commission after falling and breaking his right ankle outside company housing. He had just arrived at the 400-acre tomato farm owned by Seaside Farms on St. Helena Island when he slipped on a wet sidewalk outside the workers’ barrack-like dormitory. After the Southern Poverty Law Center took legal action on Pierre’s behalf, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed Pierre's right to compensation and sent the case back to the lower court.