Rick RosseinProfessor, expert in Civil Rights and Employment Law
Talk to employment discrimination specialist Rick Rossein about the concentration he has taught at CUNY Law School since its early years, and you’ll learn how sought-after this third-year course has become.
“Some students come to me in the first year,” said Rossein, “saying ‘I came to the school because I want to be in the Equality Concentration,’” where the focus oftentimes is on unfair treatment in the workplace, including racial and sexual discrimination.
Sometimes students “have experienced discrimination against themselves, families, or communities. They’ve seen it firsthand, and they want to do something about it,” he said.
The Equality Concentration explores civil rights laws and how people and communities may be discriminated against and oppressed. Rossein tries to integrate theory and doctrine, as well as lawyering skills, such as interviewing a client or writing a federal court complaint.
Rossein delves into Section 1983 litigation, lawsuits brought under a post–Civil War statute that, in particular, allow people to sue public entities—governments, schools, prisons, or the police—for civil rights violations.
Students respect Rossein’s extensive background. He litigated a landmark sexual harassment case, EEOC v. Sage Realty Corp. His experience includes working for New York City’s Bureau of Labor Services and its Commission on Human Rights. He also served as commissioner for equal employment practices under Mayor David Dinkins.
On the state level, Rossein was appointed by Governor Mario Cuomo to cochair a committee on the Task Force on Sexual Harassment. Rossein has also consulted with national organizations and currently does arbitration work for the American Arbitration Association.
Rossein also wrote the book on employment law—specifically, three volumes titled Employment Discrimination Law and Litigation—that is used in his class.
To expand discussions beyond what’s formally studied in class, the professor relies on twice-a-week field placements, in which students work with real lawyers on real cases, and may bring into class additional issues, including age and disability discrimination.
This year, students have been placed at the New York State Attorney General’s Office in the Labor and Civil Rights Bureaus, as well as at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and some private civil rights firms.
What pleases Rossein is how there’s a nice back-and-forth with the concentration’s alumni, who return to lecture classes or mentor new students. He also loves to read in the news how well graduates are representing people most in need of their help.
“They have someone to stand up for them,” said Rossein. “It’s nice to feel like I had a small part in it.”