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We have a rich history of litigating important civil rights cases on behalf of the most vulnerable in society. Our cases have smashed remnants of Jim Crow segregation; destroyed some of the nation’s most notorious white supremacist groups; and upheld the rights of minorities, children, women, the disabled and others who faced discrimination and exploitation. Many of our cases have changed institutional practices, stopped government or corporate abuses, and set precedents that helped thousands.
Currently, our litigation is focused on five major areas: children’s rights, economic justice, immigrant justice, LGBT rights, and mass incarceration.
Here are summaries, in a searchable format, of our current cases in addition to many over the previous four decades.
When Alabama legislators revised the state’s anti-immigrant law in 2012, they passed a law requiring the state to maintain an online list of immigrants who are detained by law enforcement, who appear in court for any violation of state law, and who unable to prove they are not “unlawfully present aliens.” It provided no means for people to be removed from this “black list” if the listing is an error or if their immigration status changes. The Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies filed a federal lawsuit to stop this state-sanctioned “blacklisting” of immigrants, which could encourage harassment and violence.
Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) fraudulently claimed to provide services that “convert” people from gay to straight. These services, known as conversion therapy, have been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. The SPLC filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against JONAH for fraudulent business practices. A jury found that JONAH violated the state’s consumer fraud law by offering services that purport to turn gay people straight.
In the spring of 2009, the U.S. Secretary of Labor suspended regulations for the H-2A guestworker program that would have slashed wages for guestworkers and U.S. workers alike. A federal court blocked the secretary’s suspension on the day it was to go into effect after a group of guestworker employers filed suit. The Southern Poverty Law Center intervened in the case on behalf of U.S. farmworkers and H-2A guestworkers to seek to recover the higher wages they would have earned under the suspension.
After Alabama’s anti-immigrant law took effect, the U.S. Department of Justice obtained public school attendance records and found a decline in Latino student attendance. The Southern Poverty Law Center requested the same data to determine the law’s impact on Latino students’ access to a public education. The SPLC filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Education after being denied the public records.
Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere were shocked to discover that an anti-gay hate group took their engagement photo and used it in political mailers to attack a Colorado lawmaker in 2012 for supporting same-sex civil unions. The SPLC and its allies filed a federal lawsuit against the group, Public Advocate of the United States, for misappropriating the likeness and personalities of the couple. It also charged that the group infringed on the photographer’s exclusive right to the photo.
Vermilion Parish (La.) Sheriff Michael Couvillon refused to turn over public records related to the detention of individuals suspected of being undocumented. The SPLC requested the records under the Louisiana Public Records Act to determine if the sheriff’s office was holding immigrants in jail for prolonged periods of time due to unconstitutional racial profiling.
Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Public School System failed to provide adequate translation and interpretation services for Spanish-speaking parents with limited English proficiency and created an environment hostile to Latino students. The school system provided school notices in English to English-speaking parents but failed to provide this information to Spanish-speaking parents in Spanish – discriminating against these students and violating state and federal law. The SPLC filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice, resulting in a settlement agreement between the school system and federal authorities.
African-American students in several Florida school districts were subjected to harsh disciplinary policies at a far higher rate than their white classmates. These students were often subjected to long-term suspensions, expulsions and even arrested at school for relatively minor misconduct.
The Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry in North Carolina failed to provide female veterans with the same job training classes male veterans received through the organization’s federally funded programs. Instead, female veterans were offered classes such as knitting, art therapy, yoga, meditation, how to de-clutter your room, self-esteem and Bible study. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a sex discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor against the organization.