Racial Justice

Project Overview

Sidley undertook numerous racial justice pro bono matters in 2021 and is participating in joint programs with other firms — including, for example, as a founding member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance — to explore ways in which legal action might address racial injustice and other racial and social justice concerns. We have a long history of pro bono success and of partnering with civil rights and other organizations focused on combating racial injustice. We reiterate our commitment to using the power of our collective voices and resources to deepen and extend the work we are already doing to combat racial injustice and to advance the fundamental principles of equity, equality, inclusion, and justice.

Visit the links below to learn more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion:

Working Together to Fight Police Misconduct

Through this pro bono matter, Sidley and the ACLU of Louisiana aim to help effect badly needed policy change within the police department. The lawsuit seeks redress for violations of an officer’s First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern, Louisiana’s Whistleblower Statutes, and the Constitution of the State of Louisiana, as well as injunctive relief for defamation, civil conspiracy, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In 2020, Sidley joined the ACLU of Louisiana's new program, titled “Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial.” The initiative aims to bring strategic lawsuits to combat racism by challenging racially discriminatory policing practices, while training the next generation of lawyers in civil rights litigation.

Victory for Photojournalist Covering Black Lives Matter Protest

On June 2, 2022, a settlement was approved between Sidley pro bono client and freelance journalist Linda Tirado and the City of Minneapolis in a case being heard in the Federal District Court of Minnesota. The settlement includes a substantial monetary sum for Ms. Tirado, as well as acknowledgements from the City with respect to policies and procedures related to the use of force.

Ms. Tirado found herself at the center of a national outcry when she was permanently blinded in one eye from a 40-mm less-lethal projectile fired by a Minneapolis Police Department officer while she covered a protest in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Sidley filed a complaint against the City of Minneapolis and others on Ms. Tirado’s behalf stating claims for violations of her rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, Conspiracy Against Constitutional Rights, and common law battery.

In February 2021, after a full briefing and oral argument from both sides, the court denied motions to dismiss from the defendants and ordered discovery to proceed, which eventually led to the approved settlement.

“This was a precedent-setting case because we prevailed over the City’s attempt to dismiss Linda’s civil right claims, which usually requires evidence of a pattern of misconduct over a long period of time,” said Tai-Heng Cheng, co-lead pro bono counsel for Ms. Tirado’s case and global co-head of the international arbitration and trade practice at Sidley. “We believe that by preserving our civil rights claim in the City’s failed motion to dismiss, we were able to trigger changes in police procedures relating to the use of force, generally, including against journalists covering constitutionally-protected protests. This was one of our stated goals.”

“We are also pleased that we were able to settle this case for a large sum of money before it went to trial,” said Mr. Cheng. “As such, we avoided a delay in paying Linda, who desperately needs the money to pay her medical bills and to support her two children.”

Ms. Tirado’s case raises important questions related to the rights of independent journalists to cover newsworthy events, and has received widespread media coverage.

“Although no amount of money will completely restore the professional damage or resolve the trauma my family and I have endured these past two years, this settlement will allow me to get back on my feet and properly care for my kids. I’m grateful to put this behind me and look forward to continuing my work on covering issues of racial, social, and economic justice.”

— Linda Tirado, photojournalist and Sidley client

Education Victory for Boston Students

On behalf of the Boston Branch of the NAACP, and working with Lawyers for Civil Rights and Greater Boston Legal Services, Sidley obtained a victory in a matter seeking to uphold an interim admissions plan for Boston’s highly selective public high schools. This win is expected to have implications for equity in Boston school admissions policies for years to come. On April 15, 2021, U.S. District Court Judge William Young upheld a one-year admissions plan that allocated seats in Boston’s elite high schools by academic performance and zip code as race-neutral and constitutional. The plan was developed to achieve geographic, economic, and racial diversity. This was followed by another victory on April 28, 2021, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit denied the plaintiff’s request for an injunction pending an appeal.

The Sidley team committed more than 745 pro bono hours to the representation of the NAACP Boston Branch, along with several other community organizations and individuals, in this matter.

The victory was reported by several media outlets, including The Boston Globe and Boston NPR station WBUR.