Residents with disabilities sue New York City over Open Streets program

By Linda Schmidt

Published April 27, 2023 7:38AM

BROOKLYN – Mill Jonakait, 77, is suing New York City. 

“The Open Streets is very troublesome,” Jonakait said. “I think they haven’t thought through what it means to people like me.”

Jonakait lives in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and walks with a limp. She was born without a femur in her right leg, making it 10 inches shorter than her left leg.  

Mill Jonakait was born without a femur in her right leg, making it 10 inches shorter than her left leg.


Jonakait and 11 other city residents with disabilities are suing the city, hoping to modify the Open Streets program.

What is the Open Streets program?

About 300 city blocks across the five boroughs are closed off to traffic so pedestrians and cyclists can use the open space. The program started during the pandemic, but it limits the amount of available parking. Jonakait is able to drive, but parking is an obstacle. 

“I usually walk with a walker around here because it’s difficult, and when I have to walk blocks, three, four, five blocks from my parked car to here. It’s a challenge to me,” Jonakait said.

About 300 city blocks across the five boroughs are closed off to traffic so pedestrians and cyclists can use the open space.

The federal lawsuit filed against the city says the Open Streets program violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.  

“It’s a real challenge and tragedy for people who are more disabled than I who can’t get their Access-A-Ride,” Jonakait said. “They can’t catch an Uber where they want to.”

“They have a right to participate in their daily life with dignity and independence.”— Attorney Matthew Berman

Attorney Matthew Berman represents the 12 plaintiffs in the case.

“They have a right to participate in their daily life with dignity and independence and not be converted into shut-ins by the fact that this program has locked down huge swaths of the city,” Berman said.

The New York City Department of Transportation oversees the program.

Spokesperson Scott Gastel issued a statement, saying, “Open Streets enhances safety, accessibility, and equity for a large number of New Yorkers using the roads including seniors and people with disabilities. The City will review the case.”

Read the full article and see the video segment on Fox 5 News New York.

Being Treated “Less Well” vs. Adverse Employment Action

By Brendan Carman

In a recent decision, a New York Supreme Court appellate judge held that under the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), a plaintiff only has to demonstrate they were treated “less well” than those outside their protected class to establish a claim of gender discrimination. The plaintiff does not have to show that they suffered an adverse employment action.  

An adverse employment action generally refers to an employer decision that impacts you negatively in a concrete way, i.e., a pay cut, a reduction in benefits, or termination. This is a higher burden than simply proving that you were treated “less well” than someone outside of your protected class.  

In Bond v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., the plaintiff raised claims of gender discrimination, retaliation and constructive discharge. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s gender discrimination claim because the plaintiff did not show that her employer performed an adverse employment action against her.

The First Department of the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s decision. The court noted that the plaintiff had provided a substantial amount of proof showing that after she denied her supervisor’s sexual advances, she “was unjustifiably criticized for her work product and attendance by her supervisors and stripped of her assignments.” Even if this did not amount to an “adverse employment action,” it was enough to show that she was treated “less well” on account of her gender.

The court also clarified that, unlike federal law, the NYCHRL does not differentiate between sexual harassment and other forms of gender discrimination. Rather, sexual harassment is merely a “species” of gender discrimination under the NYCHRL. Therefore, plaintiffs with sexual harassment claims only have to prove they were treated less well, too.

This decision highlights the broad protections against discrimination under the NYCHRL. If you believe you are being treated differently based on your gender, you should speak with a New York-registered employment law attorney.

‘Open’ or shut case: NYC hit with federal ADA lawsuit seeking to end Open Streets

By Ben Brachfeld

Photo By Christina Santucci/Queens Post

A dozen New Yorkers with disabilities have filed a federal lawsuit against the city, claiming that its Open Streets program violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, with the hope of scuttling the program.

The lawsuit, filed in Brooklyn Federal Court Monday, says everything about Open Streets is a ruse down to its name, deeming it “Orwellian Newspeak” and arguing it would more appropriately be called “Closed Streets.” The plaintiffs argue that by occasionally closing off some streets to car traffic, seniors and people with disabilities who can only travel by motor vehicle — particularly those living on Open Streets — are facing illegal discrimination.

“The program results in the de facto closure of New York City’s public avenues and streets to individuals with disabilities — whose only or primary access to the streets and to the buildings, businesses and services on the streets — is through the use of motor vehicles,” the 12 plaintiffs, who live in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, allege in the suit, which names the city and various organizations managing Open Street locations as defendants.

Open Streets began at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, intended to provide open space on local streets for locked-down city residents. The program proved one of the more popular pandemic-era policies, and has returned each summer, with this year’s program set to encompass more than 300 city blocks across all five boroughs.

Volunteers with local civic groups manage the open streets, which are typically in operation for a set number of hours per day, mostly in summer months. The volunteers set up the barricades to block off car traffic, leaving the streets for the exclusive use of pedestrians and cyclists. 

Some Open Streets are entirely closed off to motor vehicles except for emergency services, while others allow access to locals seeking to park or drivers making deliveries. They often are the site of outdoor dining, public art displays, and community programming and performances. The city has declared it intends to redesign some popular Open Streets, like Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn and 34th Avenue in Queens, to more permanently reflect a pedestrian focus, with the hope that barriers might not be needed.

Read more on AMNY.

New York City Bans Appearance-Based Discrimination

Updated May 30, 2023

New York City Mayor Eric Adams enacted an anti-discrimination law on May 26 banning discrimination based on an individual’s height or weight when it comes to employment, housing or access to public accommodations.  With the new legislation, residents of New York City will be able to bring claims of discrimination related to their physical appearance before the New York City Commission on Human Rights, a local agency responsible for examining cases of discrimination and harassment.

The bill, sponsored by Manhattan Democratic Councilman Shaun Abreu, will be effective on Nov. 22, 2023. Prior to that date, employers must review their official policies to ensure that they do not include discriminatory practices against height and weight The law includes an exemption for positions where a certain height and weight are required to complete the functions of the job, as stated in federal, state or local law, or if permitted by the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

New York State legislators are aiming to pass a similar bill on the state level, which would prohibit weight and height discrimination across the state. Other states, including Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Jersey, are considering similar legislation in their respective states.

Michigan is currently the only state that bans height and weight discrimination, and only three US cities already have an ordinance in place to ban appearance-based discrimination – San Francisco, California; Madison, Wisconsin; and Urbana, Illinois.

Mayor Eric Adams said the passage of this bill is a significant step towards eliminating appearance-based discrimination in New York City.

“It shouldn’t matter how tall you are or how much you weigh when you’re looking for a job, are out on the town, or trying to rent an apartment,” he said. “This law will help level the playing field for all New Yorkers, create more inclusive workplaces and living environments, and protect against discrimination.”

Discrimination in Housing: Persistent Challenges and Legal Remedies

Housing discrimination has been an issue in the United States for decades. While the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, was signed into law to prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, religion, and national origin, discriminatory practices still persist in various forms today.

At Valli Kane & Vagnini, we often see clients who have been discriminated against when seeking housing. For example, our client received a government voucher to pay for rent, but despite having the means to pay, she was still denied housing based on credit checks and other obstacles. This type of discrimination is prohibited by New York State law, yet it still occurs.

Another form of discrimination we see is the intentional design of apartment buildings that do not accommodate people with disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This often results in cramped living spaces with small hallways and corners that make it difficult for individuals with disabilities to move around freely.

Additionally, there are discriminatory programs that impact low-income homeowners in New York City, such as the third-party transfer program. This program allows the city to transfer properties with unpaid water or sewage bills to an approved real estate developer for free, without compensating the building owner. This practice disproportionately impacts residents in predominantly black and brown areas, and can be argued as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against excessive fines and equal protection.

It is important to note that discrimination in housing violates federal and state laws, and individuals who have been subjected to discriminatory practices may have legal options available to them. If you or anyone you know has experienced housing discrimination, consider reaching out to a housing or discrimination attorney to discuss your situation and seek legal remedies. Discrimination has no place in our society, and it is crucial that we continue to fight for fair and equal treatment for all.