Ames Semi-Final Round – March 19, 2018

Welcome to CR-CL’s Ames Live Blog!

“The Ames Competition is one of the most prestigious competitions for appellate brief writing and advocacy in the country. The students participating in the Semi-Final Round started the competition in fall of this year, and rose to the final four spots through their strong research abilities and excellent written and oral advocacy.” More information here.

Case Summary (from the Board of Student Advisors): Plaintiffs Carla Espinosa and Bobby Simone are bilingual residents of the City of Ames and former employees of the Ames Police Department. In August of 2015, roughly eight months after Robert “Bob” Kelso took office as Police Commissioner, the APD announced a new policy requiring all on-duty employees to speak English unless necessary to their job duties. Commissioner Kelso cited the furtherance of cooperation, the fostering of good will in the community, and the reduction of harassment as reasons underlying the policy, and notified all APD officers that failure to follow the policy would result in discipline and possible termination.

On September 9, 2015, the Department formally notified Espinosa and Simone that they had been repeatedly observed violating the English-only policy. The two highly decorated detectives often worked together on cases involving Spanish-speaking victims and suspects, and would frequently discuss those cases with each other in Spanish. Espinosa and Simone filed an administrative appeal, which was denied, and were suspended for one week without pay. After returning to work on November 23, 2015, the officers continued to speak Spanish while on duty, and were again notified of their violations on December 10, 2015. Facing demotion and a two-week unpaid suspension, both Espinosa and Simone resigned from the APD.

After filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and receiving a right-to-sue letter on March 1, 2016, Espinosa and Simone filed suit against the APD and Commissioner Kelso on March 15, 2016, alleging that the English-only policy had a disparate impact on employees on the basis of race and national origin, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that it was enacted with the knowing and malicious intent to discriminate against employees on the basis of race and national origin, in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In support of the second count in particular, Espinosa and Simone pointed to certain statements made in 2014 during the Ames mayoral campaign by then-candidate, now-Mayor Perry Cox. For example, at a campaign event, Cox said “Latinos, if they come here, they need to learn English or they need to go back to Mexico or Havana or wherever they came from. If they’re not smart enough to learn our language, they’re not smart enough to live here, work here, or get any government benefits here.” At another event, Cox lamented a perceived decline in the quality of the APD, and pointed specifically to the practice of speaking languages other than English as one of the causes.

Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion on the first count and the defendants’ motion on the second, finding that the English-only policy violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and was invalid but that no reasonable jury could conclude it was enacted with the intent to discriminate. Espinosa and Simone have appealed, and the two questions for the Court are:

  1. Whether the English-only policy had a disparate impact on the basis of race and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; and
  2. Whether the English-only policy was enacted with the intent to discriminate on the basis of race and national origin, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

 

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Mingming Feng is a 1L at Harvard Law School. She is from New York City and graduated from Columbia University in 2014 with a BA in History. At Harvard, she is involved with the Prison Legal Assistance Project and the Tenant Advocacy Project.

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