Cleary Gottlieb Successfully Defends Appeal in ‘Conversion Therapy’ Litigation

July 12, 2021

Cleary Gottlieb, along with co-counsel the Southern Poverty Law Center and Lite DePalma Greenberg & Afanador LLC, obtained a major victory on behalf of plaintiffs in the continuing consumer fraud litigation against the “conversion therapy” referral organization known as Jews Offering New Alternatives for Homosexuality (JONAH).

In 2015, a jury in New Jersey Superior Court found that JONAH’s conversion therapy program, through which JONAH falsely told vulnerable gay men that they were mentally ill and claimed it could change them from gay to straight, was fraudulent and unconscionable under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. Following the jury verdict, the parties signed a settlement agreement and the court entered a permanent injunction pursuant to which JONAH would be shut down and defendants would be prohibited from engaging in or promoting conversion therapy.

Undeterred, defendants incorporated a new organization, the Jewish Institute for Global Awareness (JIFGA), and through JIFGA, continued referring clients to conversion therapy providers in violation of the permanent injunction and settlement agreement. After discovering these continued violations, plaintiffs moved to enforce the permanent injunction and settlement agreement against JIFGA as the alter ego of JONAH. In June 2019, the trial court found that JIFGA was the successor to JONAH and that defendants had therefore violated the permanent injunction and breached the settlement agreement by continuing to provide conversion therapy referrals. The trial court’s order, among other things, required JIFGA to cease all operations, dissolve as a corporate entity, and pay the agreed upon breach damages included in the settlement agreement.

Defendants appealed the trial court’s order to the New Jersey Appellate Division and, supported by pro-conversion therapy amici curiae, both challenged the trial court’s factual bases for concluding that JIFGA had provided conversion therapy referrals and raised a host of new constitutional challenges to the permanent injunction. On July 6, the Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the trial court’s order. The Appellate Division agreed that JIFGA was a “mere continuation” of JONAH, found that the record supported the trial court’s factual findings, and disregarded the constitutional challenges for defendants’ failure to raise them below.

The affirmance of the order prohibiting defendants from engaging in or promoting conversion therapy is a significant step forward in the fight against conversion therapy nationwide and accompanies a growing legislative movement across the country to outlaw this dangerous practice. Importantly, as the Appellate Division recognized in its decision, New Jersey outlawed the provision of conversion therapy to minors in 2020 because “[b]eing lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming.”

Read more from the SPLC here.

Read more about the original case here.

Read more about the motion to enforce the permanent injunction here.