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Case Name Burgos v. DCFS CW-IL-0008
Docket / Court 1:75-cv-03974 ( N.D. Ill. )
State/Territory Illinois
Case Type(s) Child Welfare
Attorney Organization MALDEF
Case Summary
On November 20, 1975, this class action was filed by several Puerto Rican parents in the metropolitan Chicago area, who alleged that they and their children, who were or had been in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), were being discriminated against based ... read more >
On November 20, 1975, this class action was filed by several Puerto Rican parents in the metropolitan Chicago area, who alleged that they and their children, who were or had been in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), were being discriminated against based on their race and national origin. They were represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and sought injunctive relief under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, against DCFS and several of its officers.

The suit resulted in a Consent Decree, dated January 14, 1977, wherein DCFS agreed to make appropriate services and documents available in Spanish and to hire bilingual employees to work in certain areas. Spanish documents, including forms and informational brochures, were to be made available in numbers proportional to the Spanish-speaking community. The Decree required all Hispanic clients be informed of their rights under the Decree and how to maintain those rights. The Decree required that Spanish-language signs announcing the availability of these services in Spanish be posted in all metro-Chicago DCFS offices, displaying a phone number where a bilingual ombudsperson could be reached. It required DFCS to place children whose first language was Spanish with Spanish-speaking foster parents. Where bilingual social workers were not available, the Decree required that social workers assigned to Spanish-speaking clients be accompanied by an interpreter.

According to a summary of the Burgos Consent Decree, available here, the Court issued an agreed order in December of 1990 indicating that the DCFS was not in compliance with the Decree and appointing a Special Master. The Special Master prepared a compliance report, which led to the March 1992 the appointment of a permanent Court Monitor to oversee DCFS' compliance with the Decree. The docket last mentions the Monitor in 1999, and so it is unclear whether this position still exists. Also in the mid-1990s, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) took over representation of families in the Burgos litigation. After assuming control of the case, MALDEF encountered difficulty accessing information to monitor DCFS's compliance with the consent decree. The Consent Decree did not have an expiration date.

In 2019, there was a minor uptick in activity following a ProPublica investigation into DCFS compliance with the consent decree. The investigation revealed systemic compliance issues and focused on the tragic story of one Spanish-speaking undocumented father whose children were assigned to a household that spoke primarily Slovak at home. The father experienced difficulty bonding with his children, in part due to the language barrier. A DCFS inspector general report later found that the father's Burgos rights were violated, but he was deported and his children continue to reside in the US (the article is available here). According to their reporting, nearly 300 Burgos violations had occurred since 2005. This number is likely an undercount because data regarding race, ethnicity, and language preferences was reportedly unreliable and even deliberately fabricated in some cases. Following the publication of the story, MALDEF filed their first court appearance since 2006.

The publication of the story also led to a reassignment of the case. The case had long been assigned to Judge James B. Zagel. By 2019, Judge Zagel was on senior status and no longer an active judge on the Court. On June 25, 2019, the Executive Committee of the Court ordered the case to be reassigned from Judge Zagel to Judge Gary Feinerman for future proceedings.

Although it appeared that plaintiffs' counsel were considering reopening the litigation, as of November 2021, there was little docket activity aside from attorney appearances.

In August 2021, ProPublica revisited their earlier investigation finding that DCFS continued to violate its requirements under Burgos (the article is available here). MALDEF again made an appearance before the Court following the reporting.

Alex Colbert-Taylor - 07/16/2013
Gabrielle Simeck - 11/05/2021

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Family discrimination
Language discrimination
National origin discrimination
Race discrimination
Disparate Impact
Disparate Treatment
Family reunification
Foster care (benefits, training)
Language access/needs
Parents (visitation, involvement)
National Origin/Ethnicity
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
Defendant(s) Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
Plaintiff Description Class of Puerto Rican parents in the metropolitan Chicago area, whose children were or had been in the custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations MALDEF
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1977 - n/a
Filed 11/20/1975
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  "You're Destroying Families"
ProPublica Illinois
Date: Jun. 20, 2019
By: Melissa Sanchez and Duaa Eldeib
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Legal Accountability in the Service-Based Welfare State: Lessons from Child Welfare Reform
Date: Summer 2009
By: Kathleen G. Noonan, Charles F. Sabel, William H. Simon (Center for High Impact Philanthropy , Columbia Law School and Stanford Law School Faculty)
Citation: 34 Law & Soc. Inquiry 523 (Summer 2009)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
N.D. Ill.
CW-IL-0008-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Ill.
Consent Decree
CW-IL-0008-0001.pdf | Detail
not recorded
Burgos Consent Decree [informational brochure for DCFS clients]
CW-IL-0008-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
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Judges Feinerman, Gary Scott (N.D. Ill.) show/hide docs
McMillen, Thomas Roberts (N.D. Ill.) show/hide docs
Zagel, James Block (FISC, N.D. Ill.) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Alop, Alan A (Illinois) show/hide docs
Mendoza, Patricia (Illinois) show/hide docs
Meza, Ricardo (Illinois) show/hide docs
Rivas, Alonzo (Illinois) show/hide docs
Valdez, Maria G. (Illinois) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Goodman, Karen R. (Illinois) show/hide docs
Purves, Samuel A (Illinois) show/hide docs

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