Aug 25, 2014

HUD charges Kent State University with housing discrimination over denial of a student's right to keep a therapy dog in university housing

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Kent State University (KSU) and four employees with violating the Fair Housing Act after they denied a student's request to keep a therapy dog in a university apartment for emotional support.
The student suffers from "panic disorder and anxiety" and needs the support animal to function in school.
In a press release, the HUD Assistant Secretary said that "Many people with disabilities rely on therapy animals to enhance their quality of life". "The Fair Housing Act protects their right to a service animal and HUD is committed to taking action whenever the nation's fair housing laws are violated," Velazquez said.
In contrast, the university released the following statement Tuesday afternoon: "Kent State University is aware of the charges stemming from claims made several years ago.  Helping our students succeed remains a top priority, and we look forward to discussing the facts of this case at the appropriate time."
A letter from the psychologist, quoted by HUD, stated that the student had benefited greatly in the past from having a pet, and requested that the university "take into consideration her [the student's] mental health disorder when considering her request."

The student seeks $16,000 in civil damages from the university and each person named in the charges. The agency said that the charge will be refer to a federal administrative law judge for hearing or if any of the parties choose to have the case heard in federal district court, the case will be heard be a federal judge.

Apr 4, 2014

Louisiana Lawmakers reject Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification bill:

Lawmakers rejected a bill that would have prohibited housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The House Commerce Committee voted 13-5 today against the measure, which was the first in a package of gay rights bills proposed for consideration this session. The proposed bill would have amended the Louisiana Equal Housing Opportunity Act 
by adding sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and marital status as Protected classes:

Feb 7, 2014

Race and Familial status case filed in Southern Illinois by the DOJ:

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the owners and management of a large mobile home park in Effingham, Illinois for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act for discriminating against African-Americans and families with children.
The lawsuit, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The complaint alleges that some of the employees with management engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the FHA by imposing requirements on African-Americans interested in living at mobile home park that they did not impose on white prospective tenants. The suit also alleges that management refused to register an African-American boyfriend of a white resident.
Also, the lawsuit alleges that the defendants refused to permit families with children to live in one of the four rows at the mobile home park. “The lawsuit arose after the residents who were subjected to the discriminatory conduct contacted HOPE Fair Housing Center, an organization in Illinois that advocates for equal opportunity in housing, who in turn contacted the Justice Department.  Some of the evidence leading to the filing of today’s lawsuit came from statements made by Four Seasons officials to testers, individuals who pose as renters to gather information about possible discriminatory practices.  The testing evidence in this case was developed by the department’s Fair Housing Testing Program.”

Nov 22, 2013

Disparate Impact saved again….

Back in October, we reported on a crucial housing case that had the potential of reversing the long standing disparate impact theory in housing discrimination law.  Housing advocates nationwide closely followed the case of the Township of Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc. The fundamental issue was whether disparate impact claims can be brought under the Fair Housing Act.

The disparate impact standard has helped in the fight against housing discrimination, by enabling plaintiffs prove discrimination by focusing on the disparate impact of discriminatory housing policies and practices.  As our October report indicated, all U.S Appellate Courts have ruled on this issue and have held that the Fair Housing Act allows claims under a “disparate impact” theory. The case was scheduled to be heard before the US Supreme Court on December 4, 2013. However, lawyers from both sides reached a settlement agreement last week and would file a joint agreement to dismiss the petition filed with the Supreme Court and a joint stipulation of dismissal with the federal district court to end the litigation.

The parties in the case were the City of Mount Holly and property owners in the Mount Holly Gardens neighborhood, who claimed that the City’s aggressive redevelopment program had displaced hundreds of predominantly African American and Hispanic residents.  A Supreme Court ruling that disparate impact claims are not available under the FHA because of a lack of textual support would have carried serious implications for housing discrimination claims. This is the second time in recent years that the issue of disparate impact has fallen short of oral argument before the US Supreme Court. Currently, the disparate impact standard is still saved in cases under the Fair Housing Act.

Nov 12, 2013

Illinois the 15th State to Legalize Same-Sex Marriages

Illinois will become the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage as the House and Senate passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Governor Quinn promised to immediately sign the bill when presented to him.

Oct 12, 2013

Supreme Court to Decide on Fair Housing Rule Potentially Crucial to Housing Discrimination Claims

The U.S Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case that could potentially reverse decades of settled housing discrimination law.  The case deals with residents of a low-income neighborhood called The Gardens in Mount Holly, New Jersey. The residents sued the township when it bought and demolished homes in a predominately minority neighborhood.  Several years ago, the township adopted a controversial plan that called for the demolition of all of the existing homes in the township’s only predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhood. The town’s council voted to buy all the homes in the low-income neighborhood for existing market prices ranging from $32,000 to $49,000.  The plan was to replace the homes with 520 new homes ranging in price from $200,000 to $250,000. The prices are well beyond what the current residents could afford. Approximately 260 families already moved out. Seventy remain, including approximately 30 that are parties to the lawsuit.  
The main issue in the case is whether the Fair Housing Act requires minorities to prove intentional racial discrimination in sales, rentals, zoning or lending practices, or whether the policy has a "disparate impact".  The residents contend that any redevelopment of the neighborhood would affect Blacks and Hispanics more than Whites and is therefore discriminatory.  City officials on the other hand said they were trying to improve a blighted part of town and are not engaged in illegal discrimination.  The town argued that merely proving it displaced minority residents is not enough, and that the residents must prove that City officials who made the decision were motivated by a desire to discriminate.  However, a federal appellate court agreed with the former residents, and the town appealed to the Supreme Court.
All U.S Appellate Courts have ruled on this issue and have held that the Fair Housing Act allows for “disparate impact” claims. The Supreme Court will now decide this issue. A reversal of the appellate court will have will have negative affects to housing discrimination cases nationwide.  The disparate impact standard has been a very useful tool in the fight against discrimination to date. Such a theory of discrimination is needed because modern day discrimination is not as blatant as in the past.  By focusing on the impact of unfair housing practices, the disparate impact standard often helps screen out discrimination that is intentional, but subtle or concealed.  The theory also eliminates practices that may be neutral on their face but nevertheless extend the effects of prior racial discrimination.  If plaintiffs have to prove discriminatory intent, the majority of housing practices that disadvantage minorities will be left unchallenged.  As Florence Roisman, a fair housing scholar put it,  "If the court overturns disparate impact," It is going to gut the statute." Simply put, if the Supreme Court strikes down the disparate impact standard, it will essentially silence a weapon that has for over for over 40 years, helped to eradicate discrimination in housing.