"Civil rights law is their passion" – Newsday

James Vagnini, Sara Kane and Rob Valli
James Vagnini, Sara Kane and Rob Valli

As most lawyers know, civil rights cases are not where the real money is in the legal profession. But one Long Island law firm has barreled into discrimination cases in the South in the past few years, citing a passion for such work.
“We do the old-fashioned civil rights work,” saidJames Vagnini, one of the three partners at Garden City-based Valli Kane & Vagnini. “If I didn’t make a nickel, I’d be just as happy. I’ve learned a lot. I wanted to do law in a way that I could sleep at night.”
The firm is making money, the partners say. But the cases have taken them into some parts of the Lone Star State where media reports indicate race relations have reached a low point in recent years.
The firm was recently in ParisTexas, where the town’s largest employer is pipe-manufacturer Turner Industries. Black employees have said that hangman’s nooses, Confederate flags and racist graffiti have appeared at the workplace.
Last week, Valli Kane obtained from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission a “reasonable cause” letter, saying the federal agency believes discrimination has occurred at Turner and asking the company and its black employees to sit down and discuss the matter.
In response, Turner said it has formed an employee task force “to assist in promoting and maintaining a workplace that is free of harassment or discrimination.” Turner said it has “zero tolerance” for any discrimination in the workplace.
In 2008, Valli Kane took another case to the EEOC, this one in Dallas involving Allied Aviation Services Inc., which agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a harassment lawsuit filed on behalf of black and Hispanic workers.
The law firm was formed about two years ago. The three met when they worked together at Leeds, Morelli & Brown, a law firm in Carle Place.
Previously, Vagnini had worked for the New York City Human Rights Commission while a law student at Hofstra University in Hempstead. Robert Valli Jr. had been a Queens assistant district attorney, and Sara Kane was an assistant attorney at the New York City Corporation Counsel.
The firm also handles criminal and real estate cases, but Vagnini said more than 75 percent of its work is civil rights or discrimination cases.
“We have a passion for this,” Kane said.

Eric M. – Dallas, Texas

“Racism is a process of evil and ignorance. I began my fight against institutional racism in 2005 when I started working for Allied Aviation in Dallas, Texas. Coming from professional football where color took a backseat to teamwork, I was devastated to see that in this modern age managers and co-workers could not see past the color of skin. I, along with numerous other African-American and Hispanic co-workers, were subjected to constant racial threats, symbols and epithets which left permanent scars that can be forgiven, but not forgotten. The environment was so bad we had no choice but to fight back for our own health and sanity. To me, if you do not stand for SOMETHING, you’ll truly fall for anything.
We could not fight this fight alone, however. We called upon James Vagnini and his firm in New York to lead this fight. Without Valli Kane & Vagnini’s determination and know-how, we would not have made it through. After VKV’s relentless fight, we convinced the Federal Government to join in our fight against Allied and we were ultimately vindicated when the company not only compensated us for the harm they caused, but they were forced to commit to companywide changes and measures that would protect their minority employees well into the future.
In the darkest times at Allied, we learned that knowledge is power and the attorneys at VKV had plenty of it. I am extremely thankful for the attorneys and their tireless effort to see us through this time.”

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