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Catholic Migration Services and Pro Bono Counsel Represent Queens Tenants in an Effort to Pursue Overcharge Claims on Their Rent Stabilized Apartment

Catholic Migration Services filed two cases in Queens County Supreme Court on behalf of tenants who allege that their landlord charged them more than the legally permissible rent for many years. Along with pro bono counsel from Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett LLP, we recently obtained a favorable ruling from an appellate court that will permit our clients’ claims to proceed.

In 2015, Beatriz came to Catholic Migration Services seeking one-on-one consultation because she believed that her rent was too high. After learning about her housing concerns, the Catholic Migration Services Tenant Advocacy Program agreed to represent her and her son with the expertise of Senior Staff Attorney, Mariam Magar.

In the course of researching the records for the apartment maintained by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), Mariam discovered that a rent reduction order was issued by DHCR in 1987 (and effective May 1986) had remained in effect through September 2015. This meant that Beatriz and Angel should have been paying only $348.04 per month, an overcharge of almost $1,300 per month, until then.

In February 2016 Mariam filed overcharge cases for both Beatriz and Angel in Queens County Supreme Court, asserting that they were overcharged because (1) the rent in their 2006 vacancy lease, which was more than double the rent paid by the prior tenant, was excessive, and (2) the 1987 DHCR rent reduction order limited their rent to $348.04 per month through September 2015. After filing the cases, Mariam learned about a second rent reduction order that was still in effect.

Initially, the judges in each of the two cases dismissed them, finding that the tenants had filed them too late, but with the help of pro bono counsel from the law firm of Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett LLP, we appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department, and in June 2020, the Court issued orders reversing the two Supreme Court decisions, holding that the tenants had not filed their cases too late.

As of July 2020, the two cases are now headed back to the Supreme Court, where the tenants may once again pursue their overcharge claims with continued representation from Catholic Migration Services and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Beatriz and her son Angel, this will enable mother and son to remain in their long-time home for years to come.

Catholic Migration Services Secures Release from ICE of Wrongfully Detained Migrant Fleeing Persecution 

The Removal Defense Project (RDP) recently secured the release of a Central American client who was wrongfully detained in an immigration detention center during a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Upon entering the country, ICE made a clear custody determination to release Javier from their custody while placing him under an Order of Supervision. The Order of Supervision required him and his family to routinely check-in with an ICE Deportation Officer. Despite attending his first ICE check-in and fully complying with his order of supervision, on the day of his second check-in ICE arrested and detained Javier without warning or explanation. 

After spending a month in a county jail which ICE uses to detain immigrants, Javier received a bond hearing to request his release from detention before an immigration judge. At the hearing, ICE produced an official document which falsely stated that Javier did not attend his first check-in and that ICE was revoking his order of supervision and detaining him for his failure to attend that check-in. Javier’s Catholic Migration Services’ attorneys objected to ICE’s introduction of that document and provided the Immigration Court with Javier’s testimony and a different ICE document, which both contradicted the document filed by ICE. As a result, the immigration judge found that ICE’s evidence was unreliable and that Javier presented no flight risk. The immigration judge set the minimum bond amount, $1500.00, which was paid by The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund, a non-profit that pays bonds to free low-income New Yorkers from ICE detention.

Javier had sought help from Catholic Migration Services after suffering persecution and fleeing years of violence at the hands of a transnational criminal organization in his Central American country. When he was a child, Javier’s parents moved to the United States, leaving him in his country in the care of his uncle, who was his caretaker and father figure. Around the age of 13, he witnessed members of a transnational criminal organization murder his uncle during a public soccer game. His uncle’s  killers attempted to murder Javier too, cutting him with a machete and shooting at him as he fled. Fearing for his life and without his uncle’s protection, Javier went into hiding in another part of his country. Over the following years, the transnational criminal organization responsible for murdering his uncle and attempting to murder him tracked him down and threatened his life. The final incident occurred in 2018 when men dressed as police officers came to his home where he lived with his partner and their child. The men threatened to burn Javier and his family inside their home if they didn’t leave. Javier believes that these men were members of the same transnational criminal organization collaborating with corrupt police officers. Upon receiving this threat to their lives, Javier and his family fled from their country seeking asylum in the United States. 

While Javier was in detention, his son Kevin* turned five years old. Kevin told his mother that he would not celebrate his birthday without his father, because he wanted the whole family to be there. The week he was released, Javier and his family celebrated Kevin’s birthday.

Javier will continue to pursue his claim for asylum outside of the detention system with Catholic Migration Services as his representatives.

*Although the stories are real, the names have been changed to protect the privacy of our client.

Workers’ Rights Program Reaches $33,000 Settlement for Domestic Worker in Wage Theft and Harassment Suit

The Workers’ Rights Program won a $33,000.00 settlement for a domestic worker in a case brought under the New York State Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which guarantees basic workplace protections for domestic workers.

Our client, a Mexican national worked as a nanny and domestic worker for over six years. During that time she suffered significant minimum wage and overtime violations, as well as verbal abuse and sexual harassment at the hands of her employer. Catholic Migration Services litigated the case in Queens County Supreme Court with assistance from co-counsel from LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and reached a settlement shortly before trial in April. 

In the words of our client, “I feel very fortunate that I met the lawyers at Catholic Migration Services. They helped me and defended my rights. I am very grateful.” Catholic Migration Services also helped the client obtain a T visa, as a victim of labor trafficking. The visa was approved in September 2017 and will allow her to remain in the United States with work authorization for up to four years, and to apply for permanent residency after three years. 

Bronx Diner Workers Win Class Action Suit in Federal Court for Six Years in Owed Wages

PS and FP contacted Catholic Migration Services in May 2015. They and their coworkers had been working 50 to 64 hours per week at a diner in the Bronx, earning between $1.75 and $2.00 per hour. After meeting with our attorneys, it was explained to them that they were owed a significant amount of wages nor could not be fired for filing a complaint or lawsuit to recover the money owed. Eleven additional workers with similar complaints about their pay later came forward. In July 2015, Catholic Migration Services and the firm, Cohen, Weiss & Simon filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of approximately eighty to one hundred workers, most of whom were Mexican Nationals, who had been employed by the diner over the past six years, and had suffered significant minimum wage and overtime violations, in federal court. The case was later settled for $900,000, including fees and costs.

For more on the case and to view the official complaint, click here.

 

Labor Violations Case Settled for Employees Against Chain of Manhattan Pharmacies

In 2017, Catholic Migration Services filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four employees, who stocked shelves and made deliveries for a chain of Manhattan pharmacies. Throughout their employment, the workers were not paid the applicable minimum wage and were never compensated with overtime pay, although they typically worked over sixty hours per week. In response to these labor violations, our attorneys sent a letter to the Employer advising him of these legal violations, the Employer made threats against the workers and sought to interfere with their current employment. After filing a case at the Southern District of New York, the case was settled for $92,500.00

For more on the case and to view the official complaint, click here.

 

Salon Employee Seeks Legal Assistance and Wins Wage-Hour Violations and Retaliation Claim

For over six years, MR, an immigrant from El Salvador, worked at a hair salon in Flushing, Queens. MR worked on average 70 hours per week washing customers’ hair and cleaning the store. She was paid less than $6 per hour, well below the state minimum wage and never received overtime pay. MR was never permitted to take a lunch break and often ate standing up. While she was also required to apply harsh chemicals treatments on clients, which resulted in headaches, watery eyes, and chapped hands, the employer never provided her with protection. MR finally complained to her employer about the low pay, long hours, and unsafe working conditions. As a result, her employer fired her. When the employer found out that MR was hired at another salon, the employer contacted the new salon and said that MR was a bad employee and had reported her former employer to the government. The new employer then fired MR.

MR came to Catholic Migration Services for legal help in April 2015. Catholic Migration Services agreed to file a complaint on her behalf with the New York State Department of Labor (NYS DOL). An attorney at our organization provided advocacy to ensure that DOL’s investigation would encompass six years of wage-hour violations, rather than three years typically investigated, and that the agency would investigate her retaliation claim. MR’s former employer agreed to pay a total of $44,182.50 in owed wages and liquidated damages, and an additional $12,500 in damages for the retaliation.