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Lawsuits & Litigation

Legal Aid Society Sued for Discriminating Against White Employee

— June 28, 2019

Legal Aid Society is at the center of a lawsuit alleging it discriminated against one of its white employees.

Cynthia Taylor, 57, a Caucasian lawyer and former employee of Legal Aid Society, recently filed a lawsuit against the organization over allegations that she was “wrongfully labeled a racist by her non-white colleagues.” Additionally, she claims she was harassed and the ill-treatment caused her to suffer from symptoms of PTSD. Eventually, she went on medical leave for a year.

According to Taylor, who began working for Legal Aid Society back in 1997, the alleged discrimination began in 2012 when she was “denied a lateral move to the Community Development Project in the civil office in Harlem.” When she questioned as to why she didn’t receive the position, she was told “it was because of “diversity considerations.” Soon after, she learned an African American man with “16 years less experience that she had was given the job instead.”

Legal Aid Society Logo
Legal Aid Society Logo; image courtesy of Jasonsmallwood via Wikimedia Commons,

The alleged discrimination didn’t stop there. In 2014, when she was busy working in the Anti-Gun Violence Unity, she received a complaint against her claiming she was a “racist and classist.” The complaint was filed by a Southeast Asian lawyer who also claimed Taylor “had no business working in LAS.” That particular complaint sparked a third-party investigation, which later found no wrong-doing on Taylor’s part.

However, despite the findings of the investigation, the lawyer who filed the complaint against her was the “chair of the Attorneys of Color at Legal Aid Caucus.” According to Taylor, the lawyer “was telling her caucus things that she felt I was doing that were racist and classist and it snowballed from there.”

As a result, Taylor changed job positions in October 2014. A few years later, on July 30, 2017, a second complaint was filed against her over claims she was being racist. Once again, a third-party investigation was conducted and again found no wrong-doing on her part. Not long after, a “barrage of accusatory emails from various colleagues followed.” For example, “another lawyer in the caucus, Marlen Bodden, sent her an email which accused Ms. Taylor of being right-wing, entitled, and silencing the oppressed,” the suit claims.

From there, Taylor went to her managers and complained about the treatment, but her complaints were ignored. By the time May 2018 came around, the near constant harassment caused her mental health to deteriorate. Taylor said, “I wrote to management to please make it stop. It was making me sick and making it difficult for me to do my job and they never responded.” Eventually, she went on medical leave on June 18. However, before she went on leave, she received another email from Bodden that said:

“I have heard all the racist, anti-union activities you engage in in your office to prevent people of color from getting jobs.”

Additionally, Taylor also received an anonymous letter “discussing white privilege,” and a video link from another co-worker aimed at helping “her think about her white privilege.”

Even on medical leave, the harassment continued to affect her. The suit states, “her medical leave which was intended to relieve her of stress at LAS, became even more stressful, to the extent that Ms. Taylor had suicidal ideations.”

To make matters worse, when she was on leave she voted by email for a “white candidate for an office election and Bodden called her a ‘raging racist,’ told her to put on a hood and burn a cross in front of a Legal Aid building, and threatened her with consequences,” the lawsuit claims.

Taylor has yet to return to work and has since been diagnosed with PTSD from the years of discrimination and harassment at work.

When commenting on the situation, Taylor said:

“I am devastated and heartbroken. The reason I went to law school was to go to Legal Aid. I was at Legal Aid for 21 years. I had a very good career there…This thing just began and it just snowballed to the point where I was too ill to go into work.”

The suit further stated, “for over five years, LAS failed to correct the harassment and discrimination Ms. Taylor faced due to her race, thereby preventing Ms. Taylor from returning to work at LAS.”

Taylor’s lawyer, Walker Harman Jr., also chimed in and said:

“I was frankly quite shocked when I was introduced to Cynthia and learned about what an ironically horrible experience she was having at an organization that was developed and funded to protect the rights of minorities and she herself was treated like a second-class citizen. Even more disturbing is the fact that LAS and management did very little to address her concerns other than to tell her to go get another assignment.”


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