New York, N.Y. – February 22, 2010 — A class action legal settlement has been reached that could restore the employment rights of up to 25,000 New Yorkers. According to the settlement agreement—reached between Class Counsel Thomas Hoffman Esq. and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS)—thousands of people listed on a statewide “Abuse and Maltreatment Register” could receive hearings to have their names cleared.
The Abuse and Maltreatment Register, which is maintained by the OCFS, a New York State Agency, contains the names of individuals accused of maltreating children. Most child-related employment and licensing agencies must check the Register before hiring. As a result, prospective hires generally cannot work with children until their names are cleared from the Register.
Since placement on the Register restricts employment rights, people listed have a constitutional right to a name-clearing hearing. The class action lawsuit alleges that this right was violated between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007 because a large percentage of 25,000 requested hearings were terminated, with no hearing held. Citing statistics that show that 50% to 70% of those who receive hearings are exonerated, Mr. Hoffman says that the difference between a hearing and no hearing is often the difference between a steady job and unemployment.
Under the terms of the settlement, the State will send notices to the roughly 25,000 people on the Register whose Requests for Hearings were terminated between 2003 and 2007. The notice will inform people that they may have a right to request a new hearing. Those who respond by expressing interest in a hearing will have their records reviewed by OCFS, which must produce documentation of a hearing decision. If the State agency is unable to produce a decision, a new hearing will be scheduled.
OCFS also agreed not to re-institute a project that terminated Hearing Requests when an employer or licensing agency lost interest in an applicant. The right to a hearing, according to Mr. Hoffman, is independent of an employer’s interest in an applicant. This is especially true since most employers cannot afford to maintain interest in job candidates unable to work while they await hearings.
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York gave preliminary approval for the settlement on February 17, 2010. A Fairness Hearing will be held on April 20, 2010 in which Judge Scheindlin will decide whether to grant final approval. If she does grant final approval, Class Counsel Thomas Hoffman will monitor the implementation of the terms of the settlement for up to three years.
Judge Scheindlin must still determine how swiftly the state must schedule and decide requested hearings. Currently, an average of 8 to 10 months or longer pass before hearing requests are decided. “This is much too long a time period while the individual is waiting to become employed,” says Mr. Hoffman. During these difficult economic times, Mr. Hoffman said, it is particularly important that people receive a prompt hearing to decide whether their name belongs on this list.
A website (www.registryclassaction.com) has been established to provide information for people who have not received a requested hearing. The attorneys who negotiated the settlement on behalf of OCFS are Assistant Attorney General Robert L. Kraft and OCFS Senior Counsel Emily Reeb Bray.
For more information:
Thomas Hoffman, 250 W. 57 St., New York, N.Y. 10107
Tel. 212 581 1180 or 917 589 6156; Email: [email protected]