McDermott Files Lawsuit Against the United States Department of Justice


WASHINGTON, DC (April 27, 2016) — International law firm McDermott Will & Emery filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit was filed on behalf of pro bono client, the Mattachine Society of Washington, DC (“Mattachine Society”) seeking to uncover previously requested historical documents under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).

For the past four years, McDermott and the Mattachine Society have embarked on a mission of “archive activism” to investigate and disclose historical evidence of unconstitutionally impermissible animus and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) Americans. As part of the mission, McDermott’s pro bono team has filed countless Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests in an effort to uncover the often deleted political histories of LGBT Americans who faced persecution and discrimination in all branches of the Federal Government.

A portion of the historical documents McDermott sought to uncover was those related to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450 (“EO 10450”). In 1953, recently elected President Eisenhower signed EO 10450 and, with the stroke of his pen, provided J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) with the legal authority and jurisdiction to purge gay and lesbian federal employees from the federal employment rolls. Sixty years later, on January 25, 2013, McDermott filed a FOIA request seeking the production of any and all FBI correspondence or communications regarding EO 10450. And now, three years and many repeated requests later, the DOJ and FBI continue to withhold hundreds of pages of historical documents claiming national security and privilege.

“The troubling claim of national security was the same claim used by the government to justify the termination of thousands of LGBT Americans who were fired for being ‘sexual deviants,’ said McDermott partner, Paul Thompson. “There is just no rational basis to think that the documents tied to the firing of LGBT Americans over fifty years ago now pose a national security risk to our country.”

“The documents we are seeking are evidence of the discrimination that is still experienced by LGBT Americans,” adds McDermott partner, Lisa A. Linsky. “Thousands of lives were destroyed because of EO 10450, and it is our mission to uncover the truth that is documented in the requested materials and are the subject of this lawsuit. Our litigation will establish a ground-breaking precedent by enforcing FOIA and holding the government accountable for its past discriminatory actions toward LGBT people so that members of the public and the legal profession are better served going forward.”

Last year, McDermott, in its role as pro bono counsel to the Mattachine Society, filed an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges and the consolidated same-sex marriage cases. The brief provided an important historical framework describing six decades of unconstitutional animus and bigotry at the core of the federal government’s discrimination against LGBT Americans.

The filing of today’s FOIA suit sends the message that McDermott and the Mattachine Society refuse to allow the federal government to keep such important historical documents from the public. “It is estimated that 7,000 to 10,000 federal employees were terminated for homosexuality in the 1950s alone, followed by untold thousands more over the next few decades,” said Charles Francis, President of the Mattachine Society. “It is now time for the Department of Justice to remove the seal from this dark chapter of LGBT American history in order to see the historical roots of the administration of animus against a powerless minority.”

On January 30, 2017 McDermott filed a motion in opposition to the Government’s Motion for Summary Judgment in this matter. McDermott’s motion calls out the Government’s woefully insufficient response in complying with its obligations while asking the Court to require the Government “to fulfill its statutory mandate to conduct reasonable searches for documents responsive to the Mattachine Society’s valid FOIA request.”

You can read McDermott’s motion filed on behalf of the Mattachine Society here.

About McDermott

McDermott Will & Emery is a premier international law firm with a diversified business practice. Numbering more than 1,000 lawyers, we have offices in Boston, Brussels, Chicago, Dallas, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Miami, Milan, Munich, New York, Orange County, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C. Further extending our reach into Asia, we have a strategic alliance with MWE China Law Offices in Shanghai.

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