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Peter Romer-Friedman is a principal at Gupta Wessler PLLC, where he heads the firm’s Civil Rights and Class Actions Practice. He maintains a dynamic and innovative civil rights docket with an emphasis on employment discrimination and benefits, fair housing, credit discrimination, and constitutional rights. His civil rights cases often arise at the cutting edge of the law and focus on solving both entrenched and emerging problems with novel approaches.
Over the past decade, Peter has obtained over $1.4 billion in relief and systemic reforms by major corporations and governments, and he has secured some of the largest and most novel settlements under a range of federal laws. Recently, he launched dozens of actions to stop digital technologies and algorithmic bias from trampling the civil rights of millions of Americans and stifling their economic opportunity.
Peter’s varied clients have included workers from many industries, national labor unions, fair housing groups, national veterans’ organizations, public officials and staffers of both major political parties, whistleblowers, consumers, small businesses, and a bankruptcy trustee. He represents his clients in whatever forum will vindicate their civil rights—from trial and appellate courts, to administrative agencies, to the halls of Congress and the media.
Peter was a law clerk to Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and labor counsel to the U.S. Senate Labor Committee and its Chairman, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. He has also taught civil rights law as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown Law. Before joining Gupta Wessler, he was a partner at one of the nation’s largest workers’ rights firms, the Deputy Director of Litigation of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and a civil rights associate at a national class-action firm.
Peter graduated from Columbia Law School, where he was a James Kent Scholar and Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and externed with Judge Shira Sheindlin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He earned his B.A. in economics with honors from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and he was selected as a Truman Scholar by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. Before law school, he was a legislative representative and union organizer for the United Steelworkers and co-founded the Worker Rights Consortium, a non-profit that monitors labor rights in apparel factories worldwide. He has worked or volunteered for other progressive unions, political campaigns, and organizations including the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, SEIU, UNITE HERE!, the 2008 Obama Presidential Campaign, and United Students Against Sweatshops.
Peter’s groundbreaking cases have advanced equal rights, opportunity, and dignity for diverse communities, including by:
- Brokering the first major settlement over digital bias in which Facebook agreed stop advertisers from steering job, housing, and credit ads away from people based on race, age, and gender, and winning an EEOC ruling that the same practices violate Title VII and the ADEA.
- Recovering tens of millions of dollars for military reservists and veterans denied jobs and/or employee benefits by employers such as Federal Express, U.S. Postal Service, Southwest Airlines, Washington State, L3 Technologies, United Airlines, and American Airlines.
- Negotiating one of the largest reported workplace bias settlements with the U.S. House of Representatives in a case against the Benghazi Committee.
- Winning the first class-action settlement for a group of LGBTQ workers, Walmart employees denied health benefits for their same-sex spouses.
- Curbing racial discrimination in the largest federal housing recovery program on behalf of Black families displaced by Hurricane Katrina and securing hundreds of millions of dollars of recovery relief for them.
- Obtaining a $760 million settlement for thousands of Native American farmers denied USDA loans for decades in one of the largest credit bias settlements in U.S. history.
- Negotiating a $42 million settlement in which Wells Fargo agreed to advertise, service, and sell foreclosed properties equally in white, Black, and Latino communities to address harm from the foreclosure crisis.
- Reaching first-0f-their kind settlements with JPMorgan Chase and CNN/Turner Broadcasting to ensure gender equality in paid parental leave.
- Winning the first published appellate opinion on the formula for calculating the retirement benefits reservists get during military leave.
- Representing students to successfully convince the State Department to end a 2017 freeze of federal diversity programs that annually place dozens of students of color in career U.S. Foreign Service positions.
- Mobley v. Facebook, Inc., No. 16 Civ. 06440 (N.D. Cal.), Communications Workers of America v. Facebook (EEOC), Spees v. Facebook (EEOC) – Negotiated groundbreaking settlements of three class cases challenging discrimination on Facebook’s ad platform in jobs, housing, and credit based on age, gender, race, and national origin, with Facebook agreeing to make far reaching changes to its ad platform to prevent discrimination, including creating a special mandatory portal for the creation of job, housing, and credit ads without discriminatory filtering options.
Gender Equality and LGBTQ Rights
- Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 15 Civ. 12945 (D. Mass.) – Obtained a $7.5 million settlement on behalf of a class of current and former Wal-Mart employees who challenged Wal-Mart’s prior policy of not providing spousal health insurance benefits to employees with same-sex spouses as a Title VII violation, with all Class Members who submitted claim forms receiving payments that were at least several times the value of the health insurance benefits they were denied over a three-year period.
- Levs v. CNN and Turner Broadcasting, No. 410-2014-00427 (EEOC) –Obtained a settlement in an action that challenged the amount of paid parental leave biological fathers were given by CNN and Turner Broadcasting as a violation of Title VII’s sex discrimination ban.
- Rotondo v. JPMorgan Chase, No. 19 Civ. 2328 (S.D. Ohio) – Obtained the first class action settlement of a case in which fathers claimed gender discrimination based on the denial of parental leave to fathers, with Chase paying $5 million to settle with over 1,000 fathers and modifying its policy to make it fully gender neutral.
- Freedom to Work v. Exxon, No. 2013SN35023 (Ill. Dept. Hum. Rights) – Represented a civil rights group that used paired employment testing to reveal Exxon’s alleged bias against LGBTQ applicants and obtained a cause finding from the Illinois Department of Human Rights in favor of the civil rights group.
- Dukes v. Walmart Stores, Inc., No. C 01-2252 (N.D. Cal.)– Defeated Walmart’s attempt to dismiss and strike the largest gender discrimination class action in U.S. history following the Supreme Court’s denial of class certification in 2011.
Credit Discrimination, Fair Housing, and Disability Rights
- Keepseagle v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, No. 99 Civ. 03119 (D.D.C.) –Obtained a $760 million settlement for Native American farmers and ranchers who were denied farm loans by the Department of Agriculture from 1981 to 1999, as well as far-reaching programmatic relief.
- Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center v. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, No. 08 Civ. 01938 (D.D.C.) – Obtained $469 million of voluntary reforms in response to the lawsuit and negotiated a $62 million settlement in a Fair Housing Act class action challenging racial discrimination in the nation’s largest housing rebuilding program in post-Katrina New Orleans.
- National Fair Housing Alliance v. Wells Fargo & Co., No. 09-12-0708-8 (HUD) – Obtained a $42 million settlement with Wells Fargo in a Fair Housing Act action brought by 13 fair housing groups challenging the failure to properly maintain and market foreclosed properties in predominantly black and Latino communities nationally.
- Equal Rights Center v. Equity Residential, No. 06 Civ. 01060 CCB (D. Md.) – Represented a local fair housing organization in massive accessibility fair housing lawsuit involving hundreds of properties, defeating summary judgment on organizational standing and winning summary judgment on the merits, which led to a landmark settlement.
- Jolliff v. Uber Technologies, No. 16 Civ. 605 (E.D. Va.) – Represented a blind woman who was denied access to an Uber because she was accompanied by a service animal in an ADA Title III action that settled confidentially.
- Farmer v. Sweetgreen, Inc., No. 16 Civ. 2103 (S.D.N.Y.) – Represented a putative class of blind persons who claimed a large restaurant chain had an inaccessible web site to order food in an action that settled with the chain making its web site accessible.
Military Reservists and Veterans
- Huntsman v. Southwest Airlines Co., No. 17 Civ. 3872 (N.D. Cal.) –Obtained USERRA settlement estimated to be worth up to $19 million for up to 2,000 Southwest Airlines pilots who were denied pension and sick leave benefits between 2001 and 2018.
- Hall v. L-3 Communications, No. 15 Civ. 231 (E.D. Wash.) – Obtained the first class settlement of a USERRA hiring bias pattern-or-practice case, with each class member getting over $28,000 from a $2 million settlement fund and the defense contractor making pro-reservist reforms to its hiring and leave policies.
- Tuten v. United Air Lines, Inc., No. 12 Civ. 01561 (D. Colo.) – Obtained a $6.15 million settlement for 1,200 United pilots in a USERRA action that challenged the failure to make the proper pension contributions during periods of military leave from 2001 to 2012, with all Class Members receiving at least 100% of their potential lost benefits.
- Martin v. Washington, No. 14-2-00016-7 (Wash. Super. Ct.) – Obtained a settlement worth about $15 million in wages and pension benefits for 878 Washington State Patrol Troopers denied veterans’ preferences in hiring and promotions over several decades.
- Allman v. American Airlines, Inc. Pilot Retirement Program Variable Income Plan, No. 14 Civ. 10138 (D. Mass.) – Obtained about $6.5 million settlement for over 1,200 American Airlines pilots in a USERRA / ERISA action challenging the failure to make the proper pension contributions during periods of military leave from 1997 to 2011, with all Class Members received at least 100% of their potential lost benefits.
- Cunningham v. Federal Express Corp., No. 17 Civ. 845 (M.D. Tenn.) –Obtained a class settlement for over 4,000 reservists who claimed they were denied proper pension credit for periods of military leave from 1996 to 2008, providing benefits to the Class worth at least several million dollars and all Class Members receiving at least 100% of their potential lost pension benefits.
- Hill v. U.S. Postal Service, No. 4H310009104 (EEOC Federal Sector) –Obtained an $11 million settlement in a nationwide class action challenging the Postal Service’s pre-offer medical inquiries that violated the Rehabilitation Act.
- Podliska v. House Benghazi Committee and Rep. Trey Gowdy, No. 15 Civ. 2037 (D.D.C.) – Obtained a settlement for a former investigator of the House Benghazi Committee who alleged that he was terminated in violation of USERRA due to his military service, which the Washington Post reported as one of the largest discrimination settlements with a House of Representative office.
- Savage v. Federal Express, 856 F.3d 440 (6th Cir. 2017) – Briefed and argued a successful appeal in one of the first appellate decisions on the formula that employers must apply to determine the pension or retirement benefits of reservists who take military leave, and later obtained a settlement of the case.
- Quick v. Frontier Airlines, No. 15 Civ. 765 (D. Colo.) – Obtained confidential settlement of litigation in which an Army reservist and commercial pilot claimed he was denied reemployment and other rights and benefits under USERRA.