Filed Date: Dec. 1, 1980
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This is a school and housing desegregation case in Yonkers, New York. The initial complaint was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1980, and the Yonkers branch of the NAACP intervened in 1981 to make the case a class action. After 27 years, the parties settled in 2007, with Yonkers agreeing to build 800 units of public housing in predominantly-white East and Northwest Yonkers. This case was highly contentious: in the late 1980s, Yonkers defied the court’s desegregation orders, resulting in contempt fines that reached $1 million per day and brought Yonkers to the brink of bankruptcy. HBO dramatized this conflict in the 2015 series Show Me a Hero.
The Pretrial Phase (1980-1982)
In 1980, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division brought this case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the City of Yonkers, New York, alleging that the City had intentionally segregated its schools by deliberately concentrating public housing in Southwest Yonkers. Specifically, the complaint was brought to enforce Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it alleged violations of Title VIII of the Fair Housing Act, the 14th Amendment, Department of Education regulations, and contractual assertions made by Yonkers to access federal educational funds. By preventing public housing from being built in majority-white neighborhoods, Yonkers officials had ensured that Yonkers schools were almost entirely segregated by race. According to the opinion available at 518 F. Supp. 181, the complaint also alleged that the City and the school board enabled segregation through racially discriminatory policies and through the repeated appointment of school board members who opposed integrating Yonkers schools. The complaint aimed to desegregate Yonkers schools by desegregating Yonkers housing - specifically, by requiring Yonkers to build public housing in majority-white neighborhoods.
The Yonkers branch of the NAACP intervened in 1981, on behalf of a child in the Yonkers public school system. Thereafter, the school desegregation aspect of the case was certified as a class action, with the class defined as all black or Hispanic children attending a Yonkers public school. The housing desegregation aspect of the case was also certified as a class action, the class defined as any Yonkers resident eligible for or living in public housing in Yonkers. 518 F. Supp. 191.
Because of the divisiveness of the litigation and its potential cost, Judge Leonard B. Sand appointed a Special Master in September 1982 to help the parties negotiate a settlement to both the housing and schooling prongs of the case.
This case occurred in parallel with a case to desegregate the Yonkers Police Department. For more information about that case, see United States v. City of Yonkers, 609 F. Supp. 1281 (1984).
The Trial Phase (1983-1985)
From 1983 to 1984, Judge Sand held a 14-month trial to determine if the City and Board of Education had intentionally racially segregated housing and public school in Yonkers. 837 F.2d 1181; 624 F. Supp. 1276.
In March 1984 and with the help of the Special Master, the Yonkers NAACP and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entered a consent decree regarding public housing certificates in East Yonkers. Specifically, the consent decree required HUD to make 175 Section 8 certificates available. Recipients of the certificates had 120 days to find housing in East Yonkers. If they could not find housing in East Yonkers within 120 days, the certificates could then be used for any housing in Yonkers. HUD was also required to conduct and file quarterly reviews on the use of the certificates for the next two years and to report any complaints received from applicants. Finally, HUD was required to impose additional requirements on the Yonkers Metropolitan Housing Authority (MHA) - specifically, requiring the MHA to help applicants find housing in East Yonkers and to provide additional information to applicants about the nature of Section 8 housing certificates. 200 additional units were also made available under the consent decree. After HUD failed to take these required actions, the Yonkers NAACP filed a motion in December 1984 to compel compliance with the consent decree. 611 F. Supp. 730.
Also in March of 1984, the Special Master prepared a consent decree on the school segregation aspects of the case. The proposed consent decree was approved by the Yonkers Board of Education (YBE), but was never implemented after the Yonkers City Council voted not to provide any financial resources to carry out its terms. 108 F.R.D. 199.
In June 1984, a local reporter filed an application to waive the ban on tape-recording trial proceedings, the denial of which was appealed to but ultimately affirmed by the Second Circuit. 587 F. Supp. 51; 747 F.2d 111. In September 1984, the City of Yonkers filed a counterclaim and a third party complaint against HUD, seeking contribution or indemnity for any remedy ordered by the court, both of which were dismissed. 594 F. Supp. 466.
On November 20, 1985, Judge Sand wrote a 278-page opinion finding that Yonkers had intentionally racially segregated public housing and public schools. The City was liable for the school segregation, despite the fact that the YBE was a state-created entity separate from the City, because of the Yonkers mayor’s discretionary appointments to the Board. On the housing issue, Judge Sand found that the segregative effect of the City’s actions was “remarkably consistent and extreme,” and that it was “highly unlikely” that the “pattern of subsidized housing that so perfectly preserved the overwhelmingly white character of East and Northwest Yonkers came about for reasons unrelated to race.” The court specifically referenced a pattern of community animosity to East Yonkers public housing construction leading to the withdrawal of such proposals as evidence of why segregation had persisted despite administration changes over time. On the school issue, Judge Sand held that similar “patterns of decisionmaking” in response to “racially influenced community opposition” led to intentional segregation by the YBE and, through housing and Board appointments, the City. 624 F. Supp. 1276.
Enforcing the Court’s Remedies (1985-1989)
In June 1985, HUD had not taken any action on Yonkers’ application for the Section 8 housing certificates required under the 1984 consent decree. HUD contended that it was prevented from complying with the consent decree because of federal housing law and the City of Yonkers’ insufficient Housing Assistance Plan (HAP). Judge Sand found that the consent decree had not been presented to the court as being conditioned on the City’s HAP, but that HUD was, in fact, precluded from providing the Section 8 certificates by federal law. Despite this finding, the court admonished HUD for its inaction and set a schedule of seven required actions to be completed by October 1985. 611 F. Supp at 733.
In July 1985, the YBE demanded that its insurance provider reimburse it for about $3 million in legal fees from the trial, a request that was denied by the insurance company. The YBE successfully sued the insurance company for the defense costs. For more information on the insurance litigation, see Board of Education v. CNA Ins. Co., 647 F. Supp. 1495 (1986).
On April 22, 1986, Judge Sand issued a proposed school desegregation order, which relied on voluntary magnet schools to integrate Yonkers schools. 1986 WL 4894. On May 13, 1986, Judge Sand ordered Yonkers to desegregate its public schools. Specifically, the school district was required to establish magnet schools, enact a Voluntary Student Transfer program, and to create a human rights program. The school district was required to close eight schools. The school district was also directed to achieve 100% desegregation (defined as within 20% of the district wide average of minority students for that grade level) by the 1987-88 school year. The City and the Community Development Agency were also barred from blocking or refusing to permit the construction of public housing in East Yonkers. 635 F. Supp. 1538. This plan was later called “Educational Improvement Plan I” (EIP I). After the remedy was entered, the City objected that the court’s plan was too expensive to implement and filed a motion to stay the plan. The desegregation plan was started during the 1986-87 school year over these objections. 837 F.2d 1181.
Two weeks later, Judge Sand entered another remedy order on the housing aspect of the case. The City was enjoined from blocking public housing construction in East and Northwest Yonkers or otherwise enabling residential segregation. It was also required to establish a Fair Housing Office that would issue semi-annual reports to the plaintiffs and was required to build two hundred additional units of public housing in predominately-white East and Northwest Yonkers. To comply, the City Council had to approve specific plans for 140 of the 200 additional units by July 1986 and the remaining 60 units by September 1986. The City also had to submit a new HAP that was compliant with HUD regulations and federal law. Judge Sand retained jurisdiction for five years, after which the City could move to dismiss the case. 635 F. Supp. 1577.
At the same time, Judge Sand issued an additional order, finding continuing racial segregation through May 28, 1986. This finding was based on the City’s failure to designate public housing sites in East Yonkers, submit a legally sufficient HAP to HUD, and to obtain Section 8 certificates from HUD. The court also found that Yonkers was able to take remedial steps under the court’s orders, but had not because of political paralysis - which could not be used as an excuse to not comply with the court’s orders. 1986 WL 6159.
In September 1986, several homeowners appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to intervene of right as defendants in the litigation. Each homeowner lived near a proposed public single-family housing construction site and opposed the construction. The Second Circuit affirmed Judge Sand’s denial of the motion as untimely, finding that the proposed intervenors should have filed their motion prior to the entry of the housing remedy order in May 1986. 801 F.2d 593.
In July 1987, the City Council submitted an alternative housing plan to the court for approval. 662 F. Supp. 1575. The Yonkers NAACP moved to order the YBE to release land adjacent to schools to help the City comply with the housing order. Judge Sand approved of using these sites, but allowed the City to continue developing its alternate plan. 675 F. Supp. 1407. The alternative plan was proposed to the court in 1992 (discussed below).
The Yonkers NAACP filed an amended complaint in September 1987 to include the State of New York and Urban Development Corporation as defendants, seeking State funding for the school desegregation order because of the City’s inability to adequately fund the desegregation project. 1989 WL 88698; 893 F.2d 498.
The City of Yonkers held an election in 1987. Twenty-eight year-old Nick Wasicsko, the eventual winner and youngest-ever mayor of Yonkers, promised to fight Judge Sand’s low income housing remedy by appealing to the 2nd Circuit. The 1987 mayoral race and Wasicsko’s mayoral term are the focus of the 2015 HBO series Show Me a Hero.
Also in November 1987, Judge Sand imposed a freeze on construction in East Yonkers. Specifically, any East Yonkers construction project that would require zoning changes or that would receive municipal tax breaks and that was to be built on land acceptable for public housing, was subject to the court's freeze and later review. 675 F. Supp. 1413.
The City Council appealed the court’s finding of intentional racial segregation and both of Judge Sand’s remedy orders to the 2nd Circuit. The Second Circuit affirmed the finding of intentional discrimination and both orders in all respects on December 28, 1987. Specifically, the Second Circuit held that the school remedy was appropriately district-wide and that it was not an abuse of the district court’s discretion to order the City to pay for the school desegregation plan, since the City was responsible for both funding the schools and the segregation of the schools in the first place. 837 F.2d 1181.
In January 1988, the City Council voted by 5-2 to a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and Yonkers NAACP to specify seven sites for the 200 public housing units and to implement a plan to eventually build 800 units. Citing community opposition, the City later attempted to amend the consent decree, but its edits were refused by the district court on March 31, 1988. The City then refused to negotiate with the plaintiffs any further on the 800-unit long-term plan. On June 13, the district court ordered the City to enact a plan to build 800 public housing units long-term. After repeated refusals to comply with court orders, Judge Sand threatened to hold the City in contempt of court. 856 F.2d 444.
But on August 1, 1988, the City Council voted 4-3 to rescind its acceptance of the housing consent decree, triggering fines for contempt of court against both the City of Yonkers and the individual councilmembers who had voted against the consent decree. The City was fined $100 on the first day of noncompliance, with the fine doubled every day until the City complied. Each of the four council members who voted against the decree were to be fined $500 per day starting on August 2 and jailed starting on August 11 until they signaled willingness to implement the desegregation plan. Both prongs of the contempt charge were appealed to the 2nd Circuit, which lowered the amount of the fine against the City to $1 million per day after the 15th day of non-compliance but otherwise upheld the contempt sanctions. 856 F.2d at 450. The individual contempt sanctions were appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the 2nd Circuit on a 5-4 vote and found that the individual council members could not be fined or jailed for contempt. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the district court should have enforced sanctions against the City alone and only if those sanctions proved ineffective should the court have held individual council members in contempt. 493 U.S. 265.
On August 31, 1988, the Second Circuit upheld the district court’s orders to fund the construction of two new schools based on the Monitor’s second Report and Recommendation. 856 F.2d 7.
The fines against the City reached $1 million per day on September 9, 1988, and the City closed libraries, ceased garbage pickups, and prepared to lay off over 500 City employees. Before the City was forced to declare bankruptcy, the Council reversed course and voted to approve the housing plan by 5-2 at 1:30 am on September 10, 1988. In December 1988, the MHA issued a Request for Proposals to potential developers of public housing on five of the seven approved sites. 927 F.2d 85.
On September 19, 1989, Judge Sand denied a motion to intervene filed by members of the Yonkers Parks, Recreation, and Conservation Board so they could appeal the designation of some park land as a site for a new school. The Second Circuit affirmed the denial, holding that different parts of the City of Yonkers could not join the litigation separately to argue for different positions. 902 F.2d 213.
Continued Compliance (1990-2007)
In July and August 1990, Judge Sand ordered the City of Yonkers to transfer title to five public housing sites to developers so construction could begin. The City appealed these orders, arguing that fixing title issues impermissibly widened its scope of responsibility under the housing remedy order. The Second Circuit affirmed Judge Sand in all respects. 927 F.2d 85.
In 1991, the NAACP moved to require the City to adopt additional long-term housing measures after it became clear that the Long Term Plan Order of June 13, 1988 was inadequate. In response, the City filed a motion to vacate the 1988 consent decree and Order. 29 F.3d 40. On October 7, 1991, the City filed a motion for Judge Sand and the court’s housing advisor to recuse themselves after engaging in ex parte communications with plaintiffs’ counsel and third parties during the title transfer dispute and after commenting on the case to several publications. The Second Circuit found that the City had made its motion too late in the proceedings, and that recusal was not warranted because the communications related to existing court orders, not ongoing controversies before the court. 946 F.2d 180.
In 1992, the City proposed an alternative plan for public housing, which the district court determined would be inadequate to meet the City’s goals and unlikely to succeed because of the political discord and inefficient use of sites. Instead, the court entered a supplemental order, which aimed to utilize 250 existing units and created a Housing Special Master position. On July 5, 1994, the Second Circuit affirmed the supplemental order. 29 F.3d 40.
The State contested the YBE and NAACP’s assertion that State funds should be used to fund EIP I because further taxes on Yonkers residents would undermine the school desegregation program. The State argued that no “vestiges of segregation” persisted in the Yonkers school system, so additional funding was unnecessary. 1992 WL 176593. On August 30, 1993, after twelve days of trial on whether segregation persisted in Yonkers schools, Judge Sand determined that vestiges of segregation persisted and that the steps being taken by the City were inadequate to eliminate them. 833 F. Supp. 214. Judge Sand found that Yonkers chronically underfunded its schools because of persistent financial distress, and that even though the YBE superintendent enthusiastically embraced desegregation, segregation persisted.
On March 27, 1995, Judge Sand addressed the liability of the State for segregation in Yonkers public schools through 1985. The YBE and NAACP contended that the State was responsible for segregation in Yonkers because it failed to implement racial integration policies and because it participated in the development of Yonkers public housing. Judge Sand found that the State had adopted a passive attitude toward local segregation, but had not affirmatively participated in segregation in Yonkers. The court ultimately determined that there was no basis for State liability, despite criticizing the State’s arguments that it did not know of the segregation and was powerless to fix it. 880 F. Supp. 212. This judgment was vacated and remanded by the Second Circuit. 96 F.3d 600.
On remand in October 1997, Judge Sand found that the State was liable for the vestiges of segregation present in Yonkers schools and had to fund efforts to eliminate these vestiges. Judge Sand ordered the State to participate in the planning process for a further desegregation program, called Educational Improvement Plan II (EIP II). He also required an equal apportionment of costs between the State and City, finding equal fault for both. 984 F. Supp. 687. The State appealed this order, but did not seek a stay on EIP II, which was implemented in 1999. While the appeal was pending, in June 1998, Judge Sand determined that the City’s financial distress was such that the State would need to bear greater than 50% of costs of EIP I and II for several years, and directed the Special Monitor to create a financial plan to that effect. 7 F. Supp. 2d 396.
In December 1998, Judge Sand determined that the State’s housing authority was liable for enacting the Housing Remedy Order. Judge Sand found that the State’s Urban Development Corporation (UDC) had a legislative mandate to build low income housing in the State and was in the position to remedy the segregation of Yonkers public housing at all relevant times in the litigation. 30 F. Supp. 2d 650.
The Second Circuit reversed Judge Sand’s finding on the issue of vestiges in June 1999, holding that the criteria used were too vague and that “prior segregation, coupled with a finding of present day racial differences in educational achievement” is not enough to prove that a school system has vestiges of segregation. The Court of Appeals also rejected EIP II, finding it too broad because there were no specific findings of vestiges of segregation to remedy. Even so, the court upheld Judge Sand’s apportionment of costs between the City and State for EIP I. 181 F.3d 301. In November 1999, the Second Circuit reheard the appeal on whether vestiges of segregation - specifically, low teacher expectations for minority students and insufficiently multicultural teaching techniques and curriculum - continued to exist in Yonkers schools. The Court of Appeals reaffirmed its findings that the named vestiges were too vague to support the district court’s findings and EIP II remedy, but that half of EIP I costs were properly directed to the State. The court remanded the case to Judge Sand for further findings as to vestiges of segregation. 197 F.3d 41.
In November 2000, Judge Sand issued new findings on remaining vestiges of segregation in Yonkers schools and housing. Judge Sand found that the continuing gap in academic achievement between students of different races was due to the policies and practices in place at Yonkers schools. Specifically, minority students had been disproportionately enrolled in the least demanding academic programs, had been disproportionately involved in disciplinary matters, and had been disproportionately referred to special education programs. Judge Sand also found that the administrators of schools provided inadequate personnel services to students (for example, by not offering guidance counseling) and to students for whom English was not their first language. Judge Sand referred the case to the Special Monitor to recommend a remedy. 123 F. Supp. 2d 694.
In January 2001, the Second Circuit upheld the District Court’s modification of the Housing Remedy Order and allocation of “bonus points” to the City for speedy treatment of long-term public housing residents. Specifically, the City objected to the modification of the Order to condition the City’s credits toward compliance on the race of the family assisted and the racial makeup of the neighborhood in which they were housed. The Second Circuit found that, although this was a race-conscious remedy, it survived strict scrutiny because it was narrowly tailored to ensure the City’s compliance. The NAACP appealed the allocation of bonus credits for achieving certain targets in the Order, including quick placements of high priority families, but the Second Circuit upheld this modification as well. 239 F.3d 211.
In May 2001, the Second Circuit upheld Judge Sand’s orders on cost apportionment between the City and State. Specifically, the court found that there was no abuse of discretion in ruling that no partial credit for magnet school funding was available in continuing cost allocation, that no credit would be given for state aid grants, and that universal pre-K costs should be shifted to the 1986 Educational Improvement Plan (EIP I) after EIP II was vacated in the Second Circuit’s November 1999 decision. 251 F.3d 31. In 2002, the schooling portion of the case was resolved, and EIP I’s cost-sharing plan ended in 2006. 7 F. Supp. 2d 396.
In May 2007, Judge Sand signed off on a settlement agreement between the Yonkers NAACP and the City. The settlement requires Yonkers to maintain 800 units of housing (previously established as part of the 1988 Long Term Plan) for 30 years after the units become available. 425 units are resident-owned, while 315 units are rental housing units. The City is required to monitor the units to ensure continued affordability and desegregation compliance, and the Department of Justice and NAACP can sue for compliance. The terms of the settlement run through 2037. The case was dismissed with prejudice in July 2007, pursuant to the terms of the settlement, which remains in force.
518 F. Supp. 191
587 F. Supp. 51
747 F.2d 111
594 F. Supp. 466
611 F. Supp. 730
108 F.R.D. 199
624 F. Supp. 1276
635 F. Supp. 1538
635 F. Supp. 1577
1986 WL 6159
1986 WL 4894
837 F.2d 1181
662 F. Supp. 1575
675 F. Supp. 1407
675 F. Supp. 1413
118 F.R.D. 326
856 F.2d 444
493 U.S. 265
856 F.2d 7
1989 WL 88698
893 F.2d 498
902 F.2d 213
927 F.2d 85
946 F.2d 180
1992 WL 176953
833 F. Supp. 214
29 F.3d 40
880 F. Supp. 212
96 F.3d 600
1997 WL 311943
984 F. Supp. 687
7 F. Supp. 2d 396
181 F.3d 301
30 F. Supp. 2d 650
197 F.3d 41
123 F. Supp. 2d 694
239 F.3d 211
251 F.3d 31
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Marshall, Thurgood (District of Columbia)
Miner, Roger Jeffrey (New York)
Newman, Jon Ormond (New York)
Oakes, James Lowell (Vermont)
O'Connor, Sandra Day (District of Columbia)
Pratt, George Cheney (New York)
Rehnquist, William Hubbs (District of Columbia)
Sack, Robert David (New York)
Sand, Leonard Burke (New York)
Scalia, Antonin (District of Columbia)
Stevens, John Paul (District of Columbia)
Van Graafeiland, Ellsworth Alfred (New York)
White, Byron Raymond (District of Columbia)
Last updated July 2, 2023, 3:02 a.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: New York
Filing Date: Dec. 1, 1980
Case Ongoing: Yes
United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division; all black or Hispanic children attending a Yonkers public school; all Yonkers residents eligible for or living in public housing in Yonkers
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Form of Settlement:
Amount Defendant Pays: 0
Order Duration: 1984 - 2037
Content of Injunction:
Type of Facility: