16 Jun 2021

Cravath makes $6m donation to civil rights causes following four-decade discrimination case

Firm donates all fees it was awarded from long-running pro bono case in Jefferson County

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama is set to receive a share of the donation from Cravath Shutterstock

US firm Cravath Swaine & Moore says that it will donate $6m to support a range civil rights causes from the fees it was awarded in a long-running employment discrimination litigation case in Alabama where it was representing African American and female plaintiffs on a pro bono basis.

The firm was awarded the fees at the conclusion of a near 40-year matter that was first triggered by local government employers discriminating against African American and female job candidates and later centred around Jefferson County’s failure to comply with consent decrees to improve its hiring processes. Cravath said that it will donate the money to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the EJI’s Legacy Museum, Fisk University and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. 

Faiza Saeed, presiding partner at Cravath, said: “As we reflect on the culmination of four decades of effort to make real the promise of civil rights reforms in Jefferson County, Alabama, we feel privileged to carry forward that commitment by supporting the work of each of these remarkable organisations.”

Since Cravath took on the case in 1983 – which had initially been brought by the NAACP in 1974 – Cravath lawyers contributed more than 100,000 pro bono hours to the cause of providing a “better future for the people of Jefferson County”.

Former Cravath lawyer Rowan Wilson, who is now associate judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, said: “I was honoured to lead this work as a Cravath partner for 25 years before joining the bench, and it remains among the most meaningful cases I worked on as a practicing lawyer. To see it conclude with a measure of justice achieved in Jefferson County is tremendously gratifying, and a testament to the longstanding commitment from the firm to pro bono work and the difference it can make in progress and reform.”

The donation to Fisk University – one of the US’s leading historically black colleges – is the firm’s latest effort to support the university, having launched the Cravath Scholars programme in 2019 to help high-achieving students by providing them with tuition assistance and a summer internship at the firm’s New York office.

Earlier this year fellow US firm Morrison & Foerster launched a pro bono initiative to support black founders and black business owners as part of the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and its response to racial injustice. Reed Smith also launched an initiative to encourage its lawyers to carry out diversity and gender-related work by rewarding them with 50 hours of credit towards their billable time targets.

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