The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Rights of Racial and Ethnic Minorities


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Court Cases

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Rights of Racial and Ethnic Minorities

While the ideal of a society free from discrimination on the basis of race has a long way to go, the R.I. ACLU has worked hard to see that goal achieved in Rhode Island. In addition to its litigative activities, the ACLU has led legislative efforts to strengthen the state’s Fair Employment Practices Act. Below are some of the cases in which the Affiliate has been involved that deal with this important issue:

2018: Calderon v. Nielsen

Category: Active Case  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Due Process  Fair Administration of Justice  Immigration  

About This Case:
This is a petition for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of ICE detainee Lilian Calderon, 30, a Rhode Islander and Guatemalan immigrant mother of two who came to the U.S. when she was 3.

Current Status:
In May 2019, a federal judge ruled that the ACLU lawsuit could move forward as a class action. That ruling extends the impact of the lawsuit to many more immigrants in New England. In April 2018, the ACLU had filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s pattern of separating married couples and families pursuing lawful immigration status. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Lilian Calderon.  Documents released in August 2018 revealed that ICE and USCIS conspired to arrest, detain and deport immigrants seeking legal status.

More legal documents available on the ACLU of MA website.

Adriana Lafaille, Matt Segal - ACLU of Massachusetts


Learn more about this case >

2017: ACLU v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  Open Government  

About This Case:
This is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demanding government documents about the on-the-ground implementation of President Trump's Muslim bans.  Filed on behalf of six New England ACLU Affiliates, the lawsuit seeks records from the Boston field office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) related to CBP's implementation of President Trump's Muslim bans at T.F. Green, Bradley, Bangor, Burlington, Logan and Manchester airports.

Current Status:
Lawsuit filed in April 2017.

ACLU Attorney:
Zachary Heiden, Legal Director, ACLU of Maine

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2012: Morales v. Chadbourne

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Due Process  Immigration  

About This Case:
This is a lawsuit on behalf of Ada Morales, a North Providence resident who has twice been detained as a deportable “alien” even though she is a U.S. citizen. The lawsuit alleges that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and Rhode Island officials often bypass Constitutional requirements and safeguards when they detain individuals on immigration grounds.

Current Status:
In August 2017, the ACLU of RI settled this lawsuit on behalf of Ada Morales.

ACLU Attorneys:
Mark Freel, Erika Lindberg, Omar Jadwat, Kate Desormeau

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2008: Qu v. Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation

Category: Criminal Justice  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

On February 9, 2009 the RI ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family of Hiu Lui (“Jason”) Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese detainee who died last August while in the custody of immigration officials at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls.  Read a brief biography of Hiu Lui Ng.

The lawsuit documented what it called “cruel, inhumane, malicious and sadistic behavior” against Ng, and alleged that more than two dozen defendants, including officials and employees of both the Wyatt facility and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), violated his constitutional rights in myriad ways.

In December of 2012, a federal judge approved a significant financial settlement on behalf of Ng's family.

Cooperating Attorneys: Robert McConnell and Fidelma Fitzpatrick 

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2006: United States v. Pho

Category: Criminal Justice  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Fair Administration of Justice  

The ACLU prepared a brief supporting the ability of judges to consider, when sentencing defendants, the discriminatory nature of federal guidelines that treat crack cocaine more severely than powder cocaine.

2005: R.I. ACLU v. State of Rhode Island

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Fair Administration of Justice  Immigration  

Complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the state has failed to provide adequate interpreter services to criminal defendants.

2003: Melendez v. Town of North Smithfield

Category: Discrimination  Gender Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  

Federal lawsuit, on behalf of a female Hispanic firefighter applicant, challenging a state law giving a town a one-time exemption from the Fair Employment Practices Act in order to allow its acquisition of an all-white, all-male private fire and rescue service. After a temporary restraining order was issued in 2003, the Court permanently barred the Town from implementing the takeover in 2004. Attorneys fees were awarded in 2005.

Cooperating Attorneys: Lynette Labinger, John W. Dineen

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2003: Barros v. Town of Scituate

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Federal lawsuit challenging two separate incidents of racial profiling in which the plaintiff was stopped, questioned and, in one instance, improperly ticketed by Scituate police. A jury ruled for the officer in 2004, and while an appeal was pending, the case was favorably settled.

Cooperating Attorney: Thomas G. Briody

2003: Narragansett Indian Tribe v. State of Rhode Island

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Fair Administration of Justice  

“Friend of the court” brief challenging on various grounds the legality of a state police raid of a smoke shop on Narragansett Indian tribal land. The Court upheld the state’s actions in 2004, but the appeals court reversed in part in 2005. The full appellate court then upheld the district court’s initial ruling, and a petition for review to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied.

National ACLU Attorney: Stephen Pevar

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2003: R.I. ACLU v. Providence Police Department

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Lawsuit challenging the Providence Police Department’s failure to comply with the state’s “Driving While Black” law which requires police to collect data on all traffic stops for the purpose of determining whether racial profiling is occurring. Comprehensive court orders requiring independent monitoring of the agency, at its expense, were entered. A contempt finding against the Department for non-compliance with those orders was issued in 2002, and the City appealed. The case was remanded to the lower court for further consideration. After lengthy negotiations, the matter was settled with an award of attorneys’ fees.

Cooperating Attorney: Carolyn A. Mannis

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2002: Metts v. Almond

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Voting Rights  

“Friend of the court” brief filed on appeal in this redistricting lawsuit, arguing that the lower court used an improper legal standard in dismissing claims that black voting power on the South Side of Providence was improperly diluted by recently redrawn Senate district lines. A panel of the appellate court agreed, as did the full court upon reconsideration. The legislature then redrew the district lines, and the suit was voluntarily dismissed.

Cooperating Attorney: Jerry Elmer

2001: In re: Ang Souvannaphavoung

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

Successful appeal to Immigration Judge to terminate deportation removal proceedings against a Laotian immigrant who feared persecution if returned to his native land.

2001: Flowers v. Fiore

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Federal lawsuit on behalf of an African-American man who was stopped in his car and detained at gunpoint by Westerly police in a case of “racial profiling.”  The suit sought declaratory relief and compensatory and punitive damages.  The lower court dismissed the suit, and the appellate court affirmed the dismissal.

Cooperating Attorney: Thomas G. Briody

2000: Martinez v. Pawtucket Housing Authority

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

Successfully settled racial discrimination complaint on behalf of a Puerto Rican temporary custodian who was passed over for a permanent position after he “failed” a newly-devised written test.

1999: Fernandes v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Due Process  

Successful federal “habeas corpus” petition challenging, on due process grounds, the indefinite detention of this lawful permanent resident awaiting deportation.

1996: Doriney v. Votto

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Police Practices  

Favorably settled lawsuit on behalf of a nine-year-old African-American girl taken to the police station from school after being accused of throwing a snowball at another student.

1991: Cambodian Society of R.I. v. Town of West Warwick

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

Successful federal lawsuit challenging a town's decision to cancel a Cambodian group's use of Civic Center based on fears of possible violence at the event.

1990: Yang v. Sturner

Category: Church and State  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Religious Freedom  

The ACLU obtained a settlement on behalf of a Hmong family whose son was autopsied against their religious beliefs; this case was cited by Congress in passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and by the General Assembly in enacting a similar state law, two years later.

1984: Puerto Rican Political Action Committee v. DiStefano

Category: Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  

Successful federal lawsuit challenging state “verification procedure” for newly registered voters as an illegal literacy test.

1984: In re: Manuel Roderick

Category: Church and State  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Religious Freedom  

Successful representation of a man who had been refused permission to change his name to an Islamic name because of a past criminal record.