Solidarity Against Racism and Police Violence – A Message from O&G

Lewis M. Steel — Employment rights attorney New York

Lewis M. Steel

Senior Counsel
New York Office
(212) 245-1000


LEWIS M. STEEL works on a wide range of class actions and individual cases, generally involving racial  and sexual discrimination matters as well as labor law violations. Presently, as a member of an Outten & Golden team, he has been ligating class action claims challenging  the invalidated use by employers of criminal records to deny applicants jobs, including the ground breaking Gonzalez v. Pritzker settlement  against the United States Census Bureau, for which Mr. Steel  and the team received  the 2017 Public Justice Award.  Mr. Steel has also been listed in Best Lawyers in America for more than twenty years.

Before joining Outten & Golden, Mr. Steel handled a wide range of civil rights cases involving housing and zoning discrimination, as well as police brutality and criminal cases. He served as co-lead counsel in the Rubin Carter/John Artis case for which he was honored by the New York Criminal Bar Association in 2000. Moreover, New York Law School has awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree for his civil rights work and he has been an adjunct professor of law there.

Mr. Steel’s precedent-setting employment discrimination decisions include Sumitomo Shoji America, Inc. v. Avagliano, 457 U.S. 176, which established that American subsidiaries of foreign corporations must obey American civil rights laws. In the Sumitomo case and other employment discrimination class actions he has negotiated far-reaching settlements and monitored the companies’ performance. He now works on a range of class action cases involving sexual and racial discrimination, overtime claims, and tipping issues. Mr. Steel recently negotiated a ground-breaking settlement of pay, promotion, and retaliation claims for a class of African-American and Hispanic New York City Department of Parks and Recreation employees.

Mr. Steel graduated from Harvard College in 1958 and from New York Law School in 1963, where he was the Editor in Chief of the Law Review.

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Bar Admissions & Professional Activities

  • Mr. Steel is admitted to practice law only in New York.

  • Mr. Steel is admitted to the following federal courts: The United States District Courts for the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of New York; and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the Third Circuit.

  • Mr. Steel, who began his career in 1964 on the legal staff of the NAACP, is a past president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and has served on the Board of Directors of the New York County Lawyers Association.

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New York City Employees Filing More Discrimination Cases, with Outten Golden Senior Counsel Lewis M. Steel

Outten Golden Senior Counsel Lewis M. Steel - The number of discrimination cases filed by city employees in New York has risen even as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has adopted a far less adversarial tone than his predecessor did in dealing with the city's vast work force.

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Speaking Engagements

Mr. Steel has lectured, appeared on television, and written on a wide variety of employment discrimination and civil rights topics.

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Publications & Articles

The Right Wing Has Always Been Pro-'Cancel Culture'

Cancel culture. Cancel culture. The right wing trumpets it so many times it rings in my ears. Freedom of speech, the right's mouth pieces claim, is "silenced" by the liberals and socialists who, conservatives say, control the nation's media and universities, canceling out all but their own speech. 

But it is not those on the left that threaten free speech in any systematic way. It is those on the right that have a long and continuing history of silencing those who espouse even moderately progressive ideas and programs. 

Worse, even as the right claims to hold the Constitution and its First Amendment free speech rights in high esteem, it aggressively attacks the Constitution's Fifteenth Amendment voting rights guarantee, which came into being only after 800,000 died in the Civil War to save the Union and end slavery. 

Moreover, the right has been waging its own war on speech, assembly, and association going back well in the 20th century.

Look at the right's history of silencing former communist party members, or those it called "fellow travelers," no matter how old their participation was. In the post-World War II years, the right-wing House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joe McCarthy used the fear of communism to silence progressives by threatening employers into firing or blacklisting employees in the motion picture industry, the leaders of the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO), as well as those in government or teaching in universities. Fueling the attacks, many newspapers and radio networks acted as megaphones.

Then, of course, there was still Jim Crow creating a virtual wall of silence in the overwhelmingly white-dominated South. After the United States passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, I first went to work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a newly minted civil rights lawyer. 

As I traveled South, the Ku Klux Klan, with local law enforcement often joining in, murdered civil rights workers seeking to maintain their brutally violent racist culture. The murder of four black girls in a Birmingham church in 1963 and Bull Conner unleashing dogs and powerful fire hoses on nonviolent demonstrators awakened press to the brutality. But even then it took unparalleled violence and additional civil right murders to create the necessary momentum to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The last four years show we never left that dark period behind. The right is still viciously attacking the basic exercise of First Amendment rights—and waging the most sustained attack on voting rights since Jim Crow.

We just survived four years with Donald J. Trump. His response to those in the media who had the integrity to report his lies, evasions, and dog whistles, was to "cancel" White House press conferences, and use twitter to broadcast his falsified version of the news. Like Bull Connor in Birmingham, Trump encouraged violent police conduct against demonstrators marching under Black Lives Matter banners as well as bullies, whom he praised at his own rallies for assaulting protesters.

Even more insidiously, Trump endlessly and systematically attacked the media for publishing what he called "fake news." Nor was he alone in misleading the public. Fox echoed him, as did the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal and the media newcomers that sprang up even further to the right, playing to the Republican Party and Trump's base among the 74 million people who voted for him. Trump and his captive party still do that. They trumpet "Fake News" and "Stop The Steal," with the media acting as an echo chamber. 

The right's purpose is clear: Blot out mainstream media. Substitute "the lie" for news.

This is the backdrop of the present-day struggle to preserve for Black Americans their constitutional right to vote and have their votes counted, as guaranteed in the Fifteenth (1865) and Nineteenth (1920) Amendments. After the United States withdrew its troops from the South in 1876, the white ruling classes, their land owners, politicians, and sheriffs, gradually stripped Black Americans of their voting rights as well as virtually all their citizenship rights, placing them at the bottom of a cruel racial caste system.

This began to change after the Supreme Court's 1954 school desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, and then Congress' 1964 Civil Right Act. These ushered in the end of Jim Crow, and Congress re-established the right to vote in 1965 and provided federal provisions to ensure its enforcement. As a result, Black voting steadily increased.

In 2013, however, a conservative Supreme Court struck down key enforcement provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which applied to the old Confederate states as well as a few Northern states that had engaged in exclusionary voting tactics. After voters of color helped elect Barack Obama to two terms, and then helped Joe Biden oust Donald Trump and flip the Senate in 2020, the far right voter suppression machine shifted into overdrive.

Republicans are now pressing state legislatures and local governments to do whatever it takes—including closing polling places, limiting the use of absentee ballots, ending Sunday voting, reducing early voting days and shortening voting times, eliminating drop boxes, requiring voters to have certain identification documents, even prohibiting people from giving water to those in long voter lines—to drive down voter turnout. 

Put simply, they seek to "cancel" the Constitutional amendments which afford all Americans the right to vote. Cancel culture indeed.

Now when Black citizens exercise their rights to ask corporate America to boycott the states passing such laws, the right threatens that if corporations engage in actions intended to help preserve voting rights, the affected states should strip them of government benefits such as tax breaks. To back up their threats, the right has Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in their corner demanding that corporate America not side with Democrats and what he calls "far left mobs." Stay out of it, he says, after years of getting and obtaining their support.

Bottom line: The right wing not only seeks to cancel progressive's free speech but the voting rights of tens of millions of Americans. The right's claims to defend free speech and fight back against "cancel culture" are bogus, little more than a thinly disguised mask. Progressives should not let the right get away with it. These issues are critical to the survival of our democracy.

Words Matter: Inherent Bias and Employment Discrimination

Lewis Steel, O&G Employment Law Blog, June 23, 2020

Racism in the Courts: The Rubin "Hurricane" Carter Case

Lewis M. Steel Esq., Verdict (Vol. 25 No.2), April 2019

The Butler's Child: An Autobiography

Lewis M. Steel with Beau Friedlander, Thomas Dunne Books St. Martin's Press, 2016

Remembering Judge Robert Carter

Lewis M Steel, The Nation, 2012

Exonerating the Innocent: Pretrial Innocence Prodecures

Lewis Steel, Co-Author with Tim Bakken, New York Law School Law Review, Volume 56, 2011/12

Jim Crow in the North

Lewis M Steel, In These Times, 2009

A Dream Deferred

Lewis M Steel, In These Times, 2007

Community Control and the Courts

Lewis M Steel, Institute for Community Studies, Queens College, 1969

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Awards & Recognition

  • Mr. Steel has been listed in Best Lawyers in America since 1989.
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