Landmark Victory in ‘Conversion Therapy’ Litigation

June 25, 2015

Cleary Gottlieb, along with co-counsel the Southern Poverty Law Center and Lite DePalma Greenberg, LLC, obtained a major victory on behalf of plaintiffs in a first-of-its-kind consumer fraud lawsuit against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) and JONAH’s co-defendants. Following a three-week trial a jury in New Jersey Superior Court found that JONAH’s “conversion therapy” program, offering services it claimed could change clients from gay to straight, was fraudulent and unconscionable.

The jury ruled that the New Jersey-based JONAH violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act through its marketing and performance of conversion therapy, a practice that has been discredited by virtually every major U.S. medical and mental health association. The jury ordered the defendants to compensate the plaintiffs for the fees paid for the “therapy” as well as for legal fees. The judge will consider whether to cancel JONAH’s business license, among other remedies, in the coming weeks.

“The verdict today represents a huge victory, both for our five clients and for LGBTQ rights in the United States,” said Jim Bromley, partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. “This first-of-its-kind lawsuit faced enormous challenges since it was filed in 2012, and our team has worked tirelessly with our colleagues from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Lite DePalma Greenberg LLC to make this day a reality. Cleary Gottlieb could not be more proud to be part of this history-making effort.”

In a significant pre-trial ruling, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. ruled that misrepresenting that homosexuality is a disorder in marketing conversion therapy services violates the state’s consumer protection laws – a devastating ruling for the conversion therapy industry. The ruling marked the first time a court in the United States has found that homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder and that it is fraudulent for conversion therapists to make such a claim.

The case has helped spark legislation in Congress to protect consumers from conversion therapy nationwide. New Jersey, California, Oregon and the District of Columbia have already enacted laws to protect minors from conversion therapy practiced by licensed therapists, and a number of states are considering similar laws.