Black & Latino Voters Announce Settlement of Voting Rights Against Worcester, MA

Racial Justice, Voting Rights

Black and Hispanic/Latino/a Voters Announce Settlement Of Voting Rights Case Against Worcester, MA

The diverse coalition of Hispanic/Latino/a and Black voters that filed a groundbreaking federal voting rights lawsuit against the City of Worcester alleging that its method of electing its School Committee illegally dilutes the vote of communities of color announced today that the parties have reached a favorable resolution to the lawsuit.

In a joint filing today, the plaintiffs and the City asked the federal judge overseeing the case to approve a settlement that would effectively end the legal battle and pave the way to replace the all at-large system of electing members of the Worcester School Committee. The plaintiffs alleged that the current system dilutes the voting power of minority voters and violates the federal Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

“This is a major victory for the people of Worcester,” said Rebecca MacDowell Lecaroz, partner at Brown Rudnick LLP, who is leading a team of attorneys representing the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis along with Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR). “The Worcester School Committee’s lack of diversity was a direct result of the city’s all at-large electoral system – which was directly counter to the fundamental principle of equal voting opportunity and a violation of federal law.”

“Today’s settlement, if approved by the Court, will ensure that communities of color in Worcester are afforded equal voting opportunity,” said Oren SellstromLitigation Director of LCR.  Attorney Sellstrom noted that while the City has become increasingly diverse over the past decades, the School Committee has remained virtually all-white.

Isabel Gonzalez-Webster, Executive Director of Worcester Interfaith, one of the organizational plaintiffs in the lawsuit, stated “It is gratifying that the City has recognized that we need to change Worcester’s electoral system.  A more fair system is necessary in order to have true representative democracy and to deliver equal educational opportunity to every Worcester Public School student.”

The Worcester City Council voted 8-3 earlier this week to approve today’s filing.  “Although the fact that the vote was not unanimous makes it clear we still have work to do in Worcester, we were pleased by this important step taken by the City Council in voting 8 to 3 to approve the consent decree filed today, which sets forth the three options for incorporating district-based seats on the School Committee.  Elected bodies are stronger when they reflect the communities they represent,” added Fred Taylor, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Worcester Branch, also an organizational plaintiff.

Under the settlement, the City will be barred after November’s election from using the all at-large electoral system.  Instead, by December 7, 2021, the City Council will choose one of three alternative options: a six-member district-based system with no-at large seats, a seven-member district-based system with a single at-large seat, and a six-member system with two at-large seats. Under all of the alternative options, two of the districts will be “majority-minority,” meaning that more than 50% of the citizen voting age population of those districts will be Black and Hispanic/Latino/a combined. The change will be accompanied by a comprehensive public education and outreach campaign conducted in multiple languages.

The plaintiffs included a coalition of Black and Hispanic/Latino/a residents, Worcester Interfaith Inc., and the Worcester branch of the NAACP. In the lawsuit, Worcester Interfaith v. City of Worcester, the plaintiffs highlighted the consistent election of an all-white School Committee in Worcester, Massachusetts’s second largest city, in which communities of color make up nearly half of the population.

The student population of Worcester Public Schools, over which the School Committee presides, is even more diverse. In the 2020-2021 school year, 43.1% of students identified as Hispanic/Latino/a and 17.1% identified as Black or African American.

The settlement is available below. 

About Brown Rudnick LLP

Brown Rudnick combines ingenuity with experience to achieve great outcomes for our clients. We deliver partner-driven services, with a focus on collaboration in the client’s best interest. Brown Rudnick is an international law firm, serving clients around the globe. With more than 250 lawyers and government relations professionals, the Firm has offices in key financial centers across the United States and Europe. We are recognized for our market-leading practices covering several targeted industries, including bankruptcy and corporate restructuring, life sciences, technology, litigation and arbitration, white-collar defense and government investigations, civil fraud, special situations, corporate finance, strategic capital, distressed debt, intellectual property, real estate, M&A, and cross-border deals and disputes.

About Lawyers for Civil Rights

Lawyers for Civil Rights fosters equal opportunity and fights discrimination on behalf of people of color and immigrants. We engage in creative and courageous legal action, education, and advocacy in collaboration with law firms and community partners. We focus on impact areas that represent the front lines in today’s battle for equality and justice. LCR is headquartered in Boston. We represent clients across Massachusetts and surrounding communities—and the impact of our life-changing work ripples across the country.

About NAACP Worcester

The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons. Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. From the ballot box to the classroom, thousands of dedicated members who make up the NAACP continue to fight for social justice for all Americans.

About Worcester Interfaith

Founded in 1993, Worcester Interfaith is a multi-issue, multi-racial broad-based community organization comprised of 21 dues-paying institutions that reflect the religious, racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity of the City. Worcester Interfaith has built bridges between congregational and community leaders and across religious, socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic boundaries to accomplish much in the areas of jobs, neighborhood improvements, public safety, education and youth, and draw attention to the disproportionate ways in which these issues affect low-income and minority populations.

Click here to download thee joint settlement: