Supreme Court Victory and March 2016 eNewsletter

In this month’s eNewsletter, we shared a story of victory at the Illinois Supreme Court.  Last fall, LAF attorneys Miriam Hallbauer and Tim Huizenga appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court on behalf of a client who was denied unemployment insurance benefits even though her former employer had no evidence she’d violated any workplace policies.  This was the first misconduct case the Court had heard in years, and lower courts had substantially watered down the misconduct requirement (which disqualified a worker from getting benefits), from a deliberate violation of a known rule to anything the employer could call misconduct.  Because of Miriam and Tim’s work, the Illinois Supreme Court handed down an opinion that squarely rejects the lower courts’ interpretations, noting that “an employee should not be disqualified unless she engages in conduct she knew was prohibited.”  This decision will have an enormously beneficial impact for our clients and others seeking unemployment insurance benefits.
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Mary Ann’s Story

An LAF client has been in the Chicago news lately, and while her story is unique, it is not surprising.  We see people like Mary Ann every day: innocent victims discriminated against by overburdened systems.

When Mary Ann refused to let her daughter’s abusive ex-boyfriend enter her apartment, he poured gasoline in the windows and set her public housing unit on fire.  After months of hospitalization and painful recovery, she faced homelessness because the housing authority blamed her for the fire damage and refused to rent her a new apartment.  With LAF’s help, Mary Ann is settled into a new public housing unit, where she and her daughter are safe from abuse.

You can read more of Mary Ann’s story in the Chicago Tribune here, and on the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law’s blog here.  Because of the incredible efforts of LAF attorney Neha Lall and many others, Mary Ann is safe from homelessness and able to move forward with her life.

Lead Epidemic and Medical-Legal Partnerships

BenferTweetA recent Op-Ed in the New York Times shines a spotlight on the epidemic of lead poisoning in American cities.  Stories like those out of Flint, Michigan show the dangers of lead in water, but there is another culprit that is just as dangerous, one that disproportionately affects low-income and minority families: public housing.

The article is written by Emily Benfer, LAF’s partner in the Health Justice Project, a medical-legal partnership between LAF, Loyola University Chicago, and the Erie Family Health Center, where we work together to provide legal solutions to health problems, such as unhealthy housing conditions.  Emily  points out the dangerous discrepancy between the acceptable lead levels in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s standards and those laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  HUD’s standards don’t require landlords to do anything about lead paint or pipes until they are at nearly four times the maximum level recommended by the CDC.  And even then, many landlords do nothing, like in the case of Mahogany and her family:

“Take the case of 4-year-old Mahoghany Walker. When her blood lead levels started to rise, her family applied for a transfer. But the housing authority rejected the application, saying she had yet to reach the HUD threshold.

Like most people at risk of lead poisoning, the Walker family did not have the resources to hire a lawyer. But Mahoghany’s mother, Lanice Walker, contacted our team, and together we compelled the housing authority to grant her request for a safe place to live.”

You can read the whole article in the New York Times here, and you can learn a lot more about the impact of medical-legal partnerships on this blog.