Connecticut's "Danbury 11" Day Laborers Receive $650,000 Record Settlement

Both sides are claiming victory in the $650,000 settlement of a lawsuit brought by a group of day laborers who charged their September 2006 arrests in Danbury, Conn. were unlawful and based on racial profiling.

According to Yale Law School’s Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, which helped represent the men pro bono and issued a press release about the settlement, “This is the largest monetary settlement ever paid out to day laborers by any municipality in the country.”

“I have no idea what the basis for that assertion is,” said Dan Casagrande, the lead trial counsel representing the city of Danbury and its mayor. “The city’s insurance carrier made a decision to settle the case for nuisance value. Would we have liked to go forward and try the case and win it, absolutely.”

The events that sparked the lawsuit are not in dispute: On September 19, 2006, eleven men—soon to be known as “The Danbury 11”—were picked up near a local park by a police officer posing as a contractor. Offered work, the men got into his van, and he drove them a few blocks away to a bank parking lot, where they were turned over to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Yale Law School became involved when, said Helen O’Reilly, a law student intern on the case, “members of the community called [professor] Mike Wishnie, asking him to help locate the men,” who were being held at an immigration detention facility.

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Eight of those arrested later filed a suit claiming that their arrests were motivated by racial profiling policies put in place by now five-term Republican mayor Mark Boughton, and that local police had no jurisdiction to enforce federal immigration policy.

The suit named the mayor, the city, individual police officers, federal immigration agents, and the United States. The men were represented by the Yale Clinic and the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, which also worked pro bono.

As part of the settlement announced today, the Danbury defendants have agreed to pay $400,000, and the United States will pay $250,000, in exchange for a release of all claims.

Casagrande says that the fact that the settlement involved no change of policy for the police or the city shows, “the plaintiffs have not proven their case.”

O’Reilly says the Clinic relied on the experience of Wishnie, Chris Newman from National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and LatinoJustice/ PRLDEF to determine that theirs was a record-breaking settlement.

"Almost all cases I'm familiar with, the plaintiffs received only injunctive relief and attorneys' fees," Newman, general counsel and legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, told the Danbury News-Times. "What's extraordinary in this case is that the day laborers themselves are receiving a monetary award."

O’Reilly says that the men, who range in age from late 20s to late 40s, were in Hartford Federal District Court to accept the settlement offer on February 25.

“Ultimately, I think they felt respected, proud, and happy that their voices had been taken seriously,” she said.

The Danbury settlement occurs two weeks before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to review a Los Angeles Federal District Court decision upholding an anti-day labor solicitation ordinance.

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