In April 2009, the Massachusetts Parole Board agreed to give Bruce Wilborn, an openly gay inmate, a new parole hearing to settle the sexual orientation discrimination charges he brought against the board more than a year ago. The settlement comes after Federal District Court Judge Patti Saris rejected the Parole Board’s attempt to dismiss Wilborn’s claims that the parole board singled him out and treated him worse than other parole applicants because he is gay. Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and the law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP serve as counsel for Wilborn.
As a result of this week’s settlement, Wilborn will receive a new parole hearing this spring, more than two years before he would otherwise have been entitled to a hearing.
“This result is groundbreaking for gay prison inmates,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic. “This settlement, along with earlier decisions in the case, makes clear that parole boards may not single out gay applicants and deny them fair and equal treatment.”
Wilborn said, “It makes me very happy to know that the parole board can’t treat me differently from anybody else just because I’m gay.”
The settlement follows a federal district court decision last October in which Judge Saris adopted Magistrate Judge Dein’s opinion recognizing that “federal anti-discrimination guarantees apply to parole decisions.” The decision affirms that anti-gay bias is impermissible in the parole context.
“This settlement is monumental for Mr. Wilborn,” added Keren Zwick, one of the Columbia Law Students representing Wilborn. “For more than 25 years, he has been a model inmate, and now he will finally have a fair chance to present his case without being harassed because of his sexual orientation.”
Wilborn is represented by Neal Minahan and Lisa Linsky of McDermott Will & Emery LLP. Clinic students Mollie Kornreich ’09, Keren Zwick ’09, Abram Seaman ’10, Adam Pulver ’08, Amos Blackman ’08, and Katherine Harris ’09 have all worked on the case. Kornreich and Zwick argued against the dismissal of Wilborn’s case before Judge Saris.