O'Melveny & Myers



Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
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O'Melveny & Myers (24)


Seven years ago, when O'Melveny & Myers partner Peter Obstler helped settle a discrimination case involving a gay high school student in the Washoe County, Nevada, school district, he thought the district was on the right path. So when the ACLU of Nevada called Obstler in 2007 and asked if he would represent a Washoe County student of Egyptian descent who dropped out after being Am Law Pro Bono 100harassed, the San Francisco—based litigator says he was "not only surprised but very disappointed. . . . We had worked for days to put [an antidiscrimination] policy in place that was not followed." Obstler agreed to take on this latest case, which had already been filed by another firm.

The first order of business was to amend the complaint, and resuscitate claims that prior counsel allowed to be dismissed. In the complaint, O'Melveny lawyers argue that their client, Jana Elhifny, was discriminated against because she is an Egyptian American female and Muslim. "Jana's classmates routinely subjected her to severe and pervasive verbal and physical harassment on school grounds," the complaint says. This includes statements such as "you don't belong here" and "leave or we will kill you."

While much of the abuse was instigated by fellow students, Obstler says that "the indifference of school officials constructively expelled her, and she was not able to get a high school education." According to the complaint, when Elhifny complained to school officials, she was told, "It's not my job to help you." When O'Melveny lawyers amended the complaint, they also filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of Elhifny's friends who attempted to protect her and as a result was also harassed by students at the school. After months of negotiations, the two sides reached a settlement last April. It included a financial payout to both Elhifny ($350,000) and her friend ($50,000), along with an injunctive relief provision that calls for an antiharassment policy. "It was evident that O'Melveny brought a real passion to the case that really matters a lot," says Gary Peck, executive director of the ACLU of Nevada. "They cared deeply about the issues and deeply about Jana."

—Drew Combs | July 1, 2009

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