WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced that it has reached an agreement resolving a housing discrimination lawsuit against the Municipal Housing Agency of Council Bluffs, Iowa; Mark Schultz, former Executive Director of the agency; and Dee Wentzel, an employee of the agency, concerning alleged discrimination on the basis of disability. Under the consent decree, filed today in federal district court in Des Moines, the defendants will pay $40,000 in monetary relief to the complainants and the United States.
The Department’s complaint, filed in September 2005, alleges that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act by maintaining a policy of requiring prospective tenants to divulge mental health information and, on occasion, to make their mental health records available to the defendants as part of the tenancy application process.
“No one in this country should be treated differently in his or her search for a home because of a disability,” said Rena J. Comisac, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that the Municipal Housing Agency of Council Bluffs changed its admissions and occupancy policy once the problem with the policy was brought to its attention.”
The consent decree, which must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, calls for employee training, a nondiscrimination policy, record keeping, and monitoring. Additionally, defendants will pay $31,700 in damages to the complainants, $3,300 in damages to a fair housing organization, and $5,000 in a civil penalty to the United States.
The case originated when two individuals with disabilities filed discrimination complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD conducted an investigation and referred the case to the Justice Department, where it was expanded to seek relief on behalf of other individuals.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Since Jan. 1, 2001, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed 240 cases to enforce the Fair Housing Act, 113 of which have alleged discrimination based on disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they may have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line (1-800-896-7743), email the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at 1-800-669-9777.