Joyce McMillan was fired from ACS-funded nonprofit after criticizing agency for harming Black families
April 12, 2022, New York – Activist Joyce McMillan filed a petition in state court last night, seeking records from the Administration for Child Services (ACS) related to her firing from an ACS-funded nonprofit in January in 2021. Emails suggest it was pressure from an ACS director that caused her termination after she criticized the agency on Facebook. Filed on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Ms. McMillan by the law firm of Beldock Levine & Hoffman, the petition follows ACS’s failure to comply with a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request.
Ms. McMillan, who years ago had to fight to recover her own children from ACS, is a longtime critic of the agency, which, she says, operates like an arm of law enforcement and poses a particular threat to Black families. She is a leader in a growing movement of advocates and parents challenging a system they say often needlessly takes children into custody, inflicting severe harm on families and communities.
“Any agency seeking to make honest change would not silence the voice and expertise of a changemaker,” said Ms. McMillan.
Ms. McMillan’s firing triggered a groundswell of support from other activists and community members, which, in turn, led to her rehiring. She is seeking information from ACS, she says, to hold the agency accountable and prevent further abuses.
Ms. McMillan worked for the nonprofit Synergia in its ACS-funded We Are Parents Too program, where she coordinated programming for people with disabilities whose children were caught up in the child welfare system. A December 2020 email sent by Synergia’s executive director Donald Last revealed that he had suspended Ms. McMillan due to an ACS director’s objections to her Facebook posts criticizing the agency. Lash told THE CITY newspaper that the director alleged a conflict of interest between her activism and her work for We Are Parents Too.
After her suspension, Ms. McMillan continued to critique ACS, including via a billboard in Harlem that said, “Some Cops Are Called Caseworkers.” She was fired on Jan 22, 2021. Her termination letter stated, “This is not a reflection of any deficiency in your performance of duties.”
In March 2021, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Open Records Project filed a FOIL request seeking communications among ACS staff regarding both her firing and her First-Amendment protected activity, such as her Facebook posts, the billboard, and a rally she organized in Harlem. ACS did not respond to the request for six months, at which point the documents it provided were too few and too redacted to be of use.
“Agencies like the Administration of Child Services have a track record of acting more like the police than supportive services for New York families, particularly Black families,” said maya finoh, an Advocacy Associate at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “ACS must release information about its January 2021 termination of Joyce McMillan and cease the practice of targeting advocates like her fighting against its discriminatory and punitive family regulation practices.
Because of ACS’s failure to respond adequately to the FOIL request, Ms. McMillan’s attorneys have filed an Article 87 petition in an effort to compel the agency to provide the documents. Ms. McMillan and her attorneys believe this information will shed light not only on her firing but on a system that, despite its mandate to protect, often regulates and imperils Black families.
“It is wild that an agency of the City of New York would get someone fired for making a rather innocuous Facebook post,” said David B. Rankin, Beldock Levine & Hoffman, LLP. “The City needs to come clean about what they did to Ms. McMillian.”
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional rights case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.