New York, Aug. 27, 2009 — The Massachusetts Parole Board granted parole to Bruce Wilborn, an openly gay inmate who had previously sued the board for harassing him and treating his parole application skeptically because he is gay. Mr. Wilborn settled his lawsuit last April in exchange for a new parole hearing, which took place in May. (The decision, which was signed by the board’s executive director on Aug.18, was released to Mr. Wilborn’s counsel yesterday.)
In October of 2008, Federal District Court Judge Patti Saris rejected the parole board’s effort to dismiss Mr. Wilborn’s sexual orientation discrimination claims. That decision, in turn, adopted a federal magistrate’s ruling, which held that “federal anti-discrimination guarantees apply to parole decisions.” Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and the law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP serve as counsel for Mr. Wilborn.
Mr. Wilborn is expected to return to his family in the fall.
“The board’s grant of parole reinforces that an inmate’s sexual orientation should not be the basis for denying parole,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and a Clinical Professor of Law. “Earlier decisions in the case have shown that parole boards may not single out gay applicants and deny them fair and equal treatment. We are pleased that the law has now been followed in this case.”
“Mr. Wilborn fought for his right to receive a fair hearing,” added Mollie Kornreich, one of the students who represented Mr. Wilborn. “This is a gratifying outcome after that struggle.”
“I am thrilled that Mr. Wilborn has gotten the outcome he deserves. He has been a model inmate and an ideal candidate for parole,” said fellow student, Abram Seaman. “By granting Mr. Wilborn parole, the board is simultaneously giving a new start to a deserving man and establishing that treating a gay applicant’s sexual orientation as a negative factor for parole is both improper and irrelevant.”
Mr. 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, Simrin Parmar ’08, and Katherine Harris ‘09 have all worked on the case. Ms. Kornreich and Ms. Zwick argued against the dismissal of Mr. Wilborn’s case before Judge Saris, and Mr. Pulver argued against dismissal before Magistrate Judge Judith Dein.
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic was founded in September 2006 by Professor Suzanne B. Goldberg. Students work on a broad variety of projects related to gender equality and LGBT rights. For more information, please visit the clinic website at: http://www.law.columbia.edu/focusareas/clinics/sexuality
Columbia Law School,
founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins its traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, and environmental law.