Legal Aid Society


LAS Secures Reforms to Discriminatory Practices by Port Authority Police

The Legal Aid Society and Winston & Strawn LLP have announced a settlement in Holden et al. v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey et al., a lawsuit filed against the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) for their discriminatory practice of using plainclothes officers to arrest gay, bisexual, and gender nonconforming people and falsely accuse them of public lewdness and exposure in the Port Authority Bus Terminal men’s restrooms, as reported by The New York Times.

Judge John G. Koeltl found that plaintiffs had presented enough evidence of the Port Authority’s wrongdoings for a jury to hold multiple officers and the Port Authority as a whole liable for violating of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Plaintiffs Cornell Holden and Miguel Mejia.

The settlement requires the PAPD to cease plainclothes patrols of restrooms for lewdness or exposure, and mandates that any future patrols of this type have the highest level senior PAPD sign-off. The settlement also creates multiple new training programs to curb bias policing against the LGBTQ+ community. 

Single stall restrooms will be installed at PABT as Gender Neutral Restrooms, including updated restroom signage to read “This restroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression.”

Among the other provisions of the historic settlement are improvements to the civilian complaint and officer discipline process and the creation of a designated point of contact for community groups representing marginalized identities.

“This kind of blatant homophobia has no place in policing,” said Molly Griffard, a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society.

“This settlement not only brings an end to those practices,” added Legal Aid’s Marlen Bodden, “but also ushers in critical reforms to address future discriminatory practices.”

“I’m proud of the difference we’ve made by standing up against the PAPD’s bias-based policing. As a commuter who passes through Port Authority facilities on a daily basis,” said Mr. Mejia. “I will feel safer knowing that the reforms we fought for have been put in place, making it so that people like me aren’t arrested just because of who we are or what we look like.”

“No one should have to go through what I went through, and I hope that the PAPD will change as a result of this lawsuit and settlement,” said Mr. Cornell. “Now that the case is settled, I’m eager to put it behind me and focus on growing my cake-baking business.”