RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE
HOUSING AND CIVIL ENFORCEMENT SECTION
(updated December 2, 2010)
The Housing and Civil Enforcement Section of the Civil Rights Division is responsible for the Departments’ enforcement of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), along with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations, the land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
Under the FHA, the Department of Justice may bring lawsuits where there is reason to believe that a person or entity is engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination or where a denial of rights to a group of persons raises an issue of general public importance. The Department of Justice also brings cases where a housing discrimination complaint has been investigated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD has issued a charge of discrimination, and one of the parties to the case has "elected" to go to federal court. In FHA cases, the Department can obtain injunctive relief, including affirmative requirements for training and policy changes, monetary damages and, in pattern or practice cases, civil penalties.
Several cases we have filed or resolved recently exemplify our efforts to ensure the availability of the housing opportunities guaranteed by the Fair Housing Act.
The complaints and settlement documents for the cases discussed in the text, as well as other cases handled by the Housing Section, can be found on the Housing Section’s website at www.usdoj.gov/fairhousing/caseslist.htm.
On March 22, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. AIG Federal Savings Bank and Wilmington Finance, Inc. (D. Del.). The complaint filed on March 4, 2010, alleged that African-American borrowers were charged higher fees on wholesale mortgage loans and the lenders discriminated on the basis of race by failing to monitor broker fee pricing decisions by wholesale mortgage brokers, in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The consent order, which provides up to $6.1 million in damages and at least $1 million in consumer financial education.
On November 18, 2009, the court approved a partial consent decree resolving the government’s claims against Nara Bank only in United States v. Nara Bank; Union Auto Sales d/b/a Union Mitsubishi; Han Kook Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Los Angeles City Hyundai, Garden Grove Hyundai, Han Kook Imports, Vermont Chevrolet, and Han Kook Motors, Inc. (C.D. Cal.). The
amended complaint, alleged that Nara Bank and the other named Defendants (dealerships in Naras’ automobile lending network) violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, on the basis of race or national origin by charging non Asian customers, many of whom are Hispanic, higher "overages" or "dealer mark ups" than similarly situated Asian customers. The consent decree enjoins the Bank, its officers, and its employees from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin, in violation of ECOA, against any loan applicant and/or consumer in the terms or conditions relating to the extension of credit, including the setting of overages in indirect automobile lending purchases. It also requires the Bank to pay $410,000 to compensate several hundred non Asian borrowers who were aggrieved by the discriminatory conduct. On May 28, 2010, the court granted the dealership Defendants’ motions to dismiss the amended complaint.
On November 18, 2009, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. First United Security Bank (S.D. Ala.). The complaint, filed on September 30, 2009, along with the consent decree, alleged discriminatory pricing of home mortgages and redlining in violation of the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) initially referred this matter to the Department of Justice based on its finding of pricing discrimination, and the Division investigated and added the redlining claim. Under the settlement, First United will open one new branch and expand existing operations in majority African American areas of west central Alabama. The bank will also invest $500,000 in a special financing program, and spend more than $110,000 for outreach to potential customers, promotion of its products and services and consumer financial education in these areas.
On November 23, 2010, the United States Attorney’s Office filed a proposed consent decree in United States v. Stonecleave Village Ass’n, Inc. (D. Mass.). The Fair Housing Act complaint alleges that a condominium association in Methuen, Massachusetts discriminated against several families with children on the basis of familial status by imposing fines on them after their children were caught playing outside on the common area. The proposed consent decree, which still must be approved by the court, enjoins the Association from discouraging children from playing on the common areas. In addition, the decree requires the Association to implement a new Apath of escalation@ policy regarding violations of condo rules, undergo Fair Housing Act training, and pay a total of $150,000 ($130,000 in damages to be divided among six families with children and $20,000 as a civil penalty).
On November 18, 2010, the Division filed a complaint under the Fair Housing Act against the property manager and owner of Shamrock Apartments in United States v. Kelly (S.D. Miss.). The complaint alleges that the defendants discriminated on the basis of race and color when the property manager, while acting as agent for the owner, refused to renew the lease of a white tenant because of her biracial daughter and her association with African Americans.
On October 27, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Autumn Ridge Condominium Association, Inc. (N.D. Ind.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice/election case alleging discrimination on the basis of race and familial status. The complaint, filed in 2008, alleged that the condominium association and the members of its Board of Directors maintained a written policy that prohibited families with minor children from living in the condominium complex. The complaint further alleged that members of the Board made oral statements indicating a preference against families with children and that the policy was enforced in a discriminatory manner to exclude African-Americans from living in the condominium complex. The consent order provides for monetary relief in the amount of $106,500 to compensate seven aggrieved persons and a $13,500 civil penalty. The consent order also provides for extensive injunctive relief, including fair housing training, reporting requirements, and the resignation of the president of the condominium board.
On October 18, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Housing Authority of the City of Eastman (S.D. Ga.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice case. The complaint alleges that the Eastman Housing Authority (EHA), a public housing authority that oversees eight housing complexes in Dodge County, Georgia, violated the Fair Housing Act by maintaining racially segregated housing complexes and steering applicants to housing complexes according to race. The consent decree provides for a settlement fund of $320,000 to compensate victims of the EHA's discriminatory conduct.
On October 12, 2010, the United States Attorney's Office filed a complaint in United States v. Testa Family Enterprises (N.D. Ohio). The complaint alleges that a 26 unit apartment building in Ravenna, Ohio discriminated against the mother of a 4 year old son and a 10 month old daughter, and the Fair Housing Advocates Association on the basis of familial status by refusing to rent upper-level units to families with young children.
On September 29, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Housing Authority of the City of Royston (M.D. Ga.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice case. The complaint, filed along with the proposed consent decree on September 27, alleges that the Royston Housing Authority (RHA), a public housing authority that oversees seven housing complexes in Royston, Georgia, violated the Fair Housing Act by maintaining racially segregated housing complexes and steering applicants to housing complexes according to race. The consent decree provides for a settlement fund of $270,000 to compensate victims of the RHA's discriminatory conduct. The consent decree also requires the RHA to develop and implement nondiscriminatory practices and procedures, provide Fair Housing Act training for its employees, ensure that new units are located in areas that do not further racial segregation, provide tenants who have been discriminated against the option to transfer to another unit or complex, and submit to record keeping and reporting requirements.
On September 28, 2010, the court entered judgment in favor of the United States in United States v. Collier (W.D. La.). After a two day trial, the court found that Collier implemented "a scheme or device to exclude blacks" from Camp Joy Marina and engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination. The court credited the testimony of one government witness who operated the marina restaurant and bar, and who testified that Collier threatened to cancel his lease if he allowed African-Americans on the property. The court also found that when a couple living at the marina tried to sell their home, Collier caused the sale to fall apart and then repossessed the house because he was afraid they would sell it to an African-American. The complaint, which resulted from an investigation conducted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), alleged that Collier engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination by excluding African-Americans from the Camp Joy Marina, located outside Shreveport, and by interfering with the sale of a home based on the perceived race of the buyer. The court ordered Collier to pay a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States, and to pay more than $25,000 to compensate the victims of the discrimination.
On September 20, 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois filed a complaint in United States v. Sabbia (N.D. Ill.), a Fair Housing Act election case which was referred to the Division by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The complaint alleges that the owners, listing agent and listing broker of a five-bedroom 8,000 square foot single family home in Chicago, Illinois discriminated on the basis of race (African-American), in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(a), 3605 and 3617, by refusing to sell the home to radio personality George Willborn, his wife and their two children.
On July 19, 2010, the Division filed a complaint in United States v. Riba (D. N.H.), a Fair Housing Act case referred by HUD. The complaint alleges that the defendant, Lothar Riba, made statements with respect to the rental of a dwelling that indicated a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, and national origin. The complaint also alleges acts of interference, coercion or intimidation in violation of § 3617.
On July 16, 2010, the Division filed a complaint in United States v. Summerhill Place, LLC (W.D. Wash.) for violations of the Fair Housing Act. This is a HUD-referred case against a 268-unit apartment complex near Seattle, Washington. The complaint alleges that the owner, management company and on-site manager violated the Fair Housing Act by: discouraging potential residents who were African American, Hispanic, and families with children, steering minority applicants and families with children away from certain buildings within the complex, discriminating against minority applicants and families with children in the terms and conditions of rental, making discriminatory statements against minority tenants and families with children, and falsely representing that apartments were not available to minority applicants and families with children.
On July 7, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Acme Investments, Inc. (E.D. Mich.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice case alleging that the property manager of an apartment complex racially discriminated in the rental and inspection of apartments. The case was developed through testing conducted by the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan. Under the settlement, the defendants will pay $35,000 in damages to three victims whom the United States contends were discriminated against because of their race; a $7,500 civil penalty; and $40,000 to the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan to compensate the non-profit for its efforts in testing and investigating the apartment complex.
On June 24, 2010, the United States Attorney's Office filed a complaint in United States v. Loki Properties (D. Minn.), a Fair Housing Act case referred by HUD. The complaint alleges that the owner and manager of a four unit apartment building in Red Wing, Minnesota violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent an apartment to complainant John Peet, who was trying to use a Section 8 voucher, because of the combination of his race (African-American) and his gender (male).
On June 23, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Morgan (S.D. Ga.), a Fair Housing Act case alleging that Defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the base of race or color and sex. The consent order requires the Defendants to pay a total of $680,000 in monetary damages and civil penalties. The consent decree also includes broad injunctive relief, including an independent manager provision, training and reporting requirements and a four-year term.
On May 13, 2010, the court issued a judgment against Stacy Sturdevant in United States v. Sturdevant (D. Kan.), a Fair Housing Act case in which the United States alleged that the defendants created a racially hostile environment in a high-rise apartment building in Kansas City, and retaliated against a former employee, Melissa Kothe. The judgment permanently enjoined Sturdevant from working in any capacity in rental housing, and assessed a $55,000 civil penalty against her for her violations of the Fair Housing Act. On February 24, 2010, the court entered a partial consent decree among the AIMCO Defendants and the United States. The decree provides that the AIMCO Defendants will pay $1,890,000 to compensate aggrieved persons, and $95,000 in civil penalties to the United States Treasury. The United States settled its claim against the former owners, Central Park Towers II L.P., in 2009, for $145,000. That settlement, together with the AIMCO settlement, brings the total settlement amount in the case to $2,185,000.
On March 10, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Fountain View Apartments, Inc. (M.D. Fla.), a Fair Housing Act case alleging discrimination on the basis of race and familial status. The consent order provides for extensive injunctive relief, $175,000 to nine aggrieved persons, $140,000 to three plaintiff-intervenors, and a $100,000 civil penalty to the United States.
On November 12, 2009, the court entered a consent order resolving United States v. Sterling (C.D. Cal.). The complaint, filed on August 7, 2006, alleged that Donald Sterling, Rochelle Sterling, the Sterling Family Trust, and the Korean Land Company, L.L.C. violated the Fair Housing Act on the basis of race, national origin and familial status by refusing to rent to non-Korean prospective tenants, misrepresenting the availability of apartment units to non-Korean prospective tenants, and providing inferior treatment to non-Korean tenants in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles. The United States also alleged that the Sterling defendants made statements and published notices or advertisements in connection with the rental of apartment units that expressed a preference for Korean tenants in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles and express discrimination against African-Americans and families with children in Los Angeles County. The consent order requires the defendants to: (1) pay a total of $2.725 million in monetary damages and civil penalties; (2) implement a self-testing program over the next three years to monitor their employees’ compliance with fair housing laws at their Los Angeles County properties; (3) maintain non-discriminatory practices and procedures; and (4) obtain fair housing training for their employees who participate in renting, showing, or managing apartments at the Los Angeles County properties. The order settles the claims of the United States and the private plaintiffs. This settlement represents the largest monetary payment ever obtained by the Department of Justice in the settlement of a case alleging housing discrimination in the rental of apartments.
On March 3, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Latvian Tower Condominium Association, Inc. (D. Neb.), a Fair Housing Act case alleging discrimination against families with children. The consent order provides a total of $77,500 in monetary relief to the plaintiff-intervenors, $35,000 for other aggrieved victims, $15,500 in civil penalty and standard injunctive relief.
On February 9, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Coldwell Banker Joe T. Lane Realty, Inc. (N.D. Ga.), a Fair Housing Act case alleging racial steering against families with children. The consent order provides a total of $77,500 in monetary relief to the plaintiff-intervenors, $35,000 party, the National Fair Housing Alliance, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs.
On October 1, 2009, the court entered a consent decree resolving United States v. GuideOne Mutual Ins. Co. (W.D. Ky.), a Fair Housing Act case referred by HUD. The complaint, filed on September 18, 2009, alleged discrimination on the basis of religion because the defendants, an insurance company and two independent insurance brokers, provided insurance benefits for certain losses related to church activities. Two individual complainants and a local fair housing group filed complaints with HUD and elected to proceed in federal district court. Under the settlement, the defendants must pay a total of $29,500 to three victims of discrimination, an additional $45,000 to the government as a civil penalty and stop the alleged discriminatory practices. The settlement also requires GuideOne to train insurance agents on their responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act and provide periodic reports to the Justice Department. The consent decree will remain in effect for three years.
On November 10, 2010, the Division filed a Fair Housing Act complaint against the property manager, management company, and owner of Park Towers Apartments in United States v. Nieman (N.D. Iowa), alleging that the property manager, while acting as an agent for the management company and owner, sexually harassed at least two female tenants of Park Towers Apartments. The complaint also alleges that the property manager repeatedly offered to exchange housing benefits (rent, lockout fees, cable fees, etc.) for sex and made comments of a sexual nature to tenants.
On August 6, 2010, a federal jury in Detroit returned a $115,000 verdict against Glenn Johnson, Ronnie Peterson and First Pitch Properties LLC in United States v. Peterson, et al. (E.D. Mich.), a case under the federal Fair Housing Act alleging sexual harassment against female tenants. Over the course of a six day trial, the United States presented evidence that Glenn Johnson, the maintenance man, subjected six women to severe and pervasive sexual harassment, ranging from unwelcome sexual comments and sexual advances, to requiring sexual favors in exchange for their tenancy. One woman testified that Johnson refused to give her keys to her apartment until she agreed to have sex with him. Another woman testified that she had sex with Johnson at least 20 times because he threatened that the owner would evict her if she did not. The United States also presented evidence that Washtenaw County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, who owned the properties, knew that Johnson was sexually harassing tenants but did nothing to stop it. Compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $115,000 will be divided among the six female tenants whom the jury found were victims of the harassment. This case was referred to the Department of Justice by the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan.
On June 23, 2010, the Court entered a consent order in United States v. Morgan (S.D. Ga.), a Fair Housing Act case alleging that Defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the base of race or color and sex. The consent order requires the Defendants to pay a total of $680,000 in monetary damages and civil penalties. The consent decree also includes broad injunctive relief, including an independent manager provision, training and reporting requirements and a four-year term.
On April 20, 2010, the United States Attorney’s Office filed a complaint in United States v. Barnason (S.D.N.Y.), alleging that the manager and owner of three residential apartment buildings engaged in a pattern or practice of sexual harassment of female tenants in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
On November 2, 2010, the Division filed an amicus brief in Fair Housing of the Dakotas v. Goldmark Property Management Co. (D. N.D.), a challenge brought under the Fair Housing Act to a rental management company’s animal assistance policies. The United States’ brief argued that: (1) the Fair Housing Act bars landlords from requiring that assistance animals have special training to be accepted as a reasonable accommodation and that emotional support or companion animals, which do not have training, may be required accommodations under the Act; (2) the Fair Housing Act may require landlords to waive generally applicable pet surcharges or fees for assistance animals if necessary to ensure equal opportunity to use and enjoy a residence; and (3) fees that are applied to non-specially trained assistance animal for persons with mental disabilities but waived for "service animals" for persons with physical disabilities are not generally applicable and discriminate on the basis of disability.
On July 9, 2010, the court entered the consent order in United States v. Fitchburg Hous. Auth. (D. Mass.), a Fair Housing Act case alleging disability discrimination. Under the consent order, the defendants must establish a $65,000 settlement fund to compensate victims. Additionally, the Fitchburg Housing Authority must implement nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodation policies.
On June 8, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Sunrise Villas (E.D.N.Y.), a Fair Housing Act case. The complaint, filed on September 9, 2009, alleged that the defendants violated the Fair Housing Act on the basis of disability by telling fair housing testers that service animals were not permitted to live at the property. The consent decree enjoins the defendants from further violations of the Act and requires them to adopt a written assistance animal policy, display a fair housing poster, attend fair housing training, comply with record keeping and reporting provisions and pay $12,186 in damages to Long Island Housing Services and a $1,000 civil penalty.
On February 19, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Berk Cohen Associates at Tor View Village Apartments, LLC (S.D.N.Y.), a Fair Housing Act case alleging that the defendant refused to accept rental guarantees from Loeb House, a local social service provider that assists persons with mental disabilities. Under the consent decree, the defendant has agreed to change its rental application income requirements to include reasonably verifiable income provided to applicants by accredited social service agencies that provide benefits to people with disabilities. In a separate agreement with Loeb House, the defendant has agreed to pay Loeb House $20,000.
"Design and Construction" Cases:
On October 15, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. CVP I, LLC (S.D.N.Y.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice design and construct case in New York City pertaining to Avalon Chrystie Place. The decree provides for injunctive relief and retrofitting of non-compliant elements at Avalon Chrystie Place and other properties designed and constructed by defendants, and includes an education program and public notice of a non-discriminatory policy, an aggrieved-person compensation fund of $2,045,600, a civil penalty of $90,000, and a fund of $72,000 for certain specific retrofits.
On September 30, 2010, the United States Attorney’s Office filed a complaint and proposed partial consent decree in United States v. L&M 93rd Street LLC (The Melar) (S.D.N.Y.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice design and construction case alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. The complaint alleges that the defendants failed to design and construct a 143-unit apartment building in New York City in compliance with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility guidelines. The consent decree, which still must be approved by the court, resolves the case with respect to the developer defendant.
On September 23, 2010, the Division filed a complaint in United States v. Post Properties (D. D.C.), alleging that defendants failed to provide accessible features required by the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act at multi-family housing developments. According to the complaint, Post has designed, constructed and developed at least 50 multi-family apartment complexes in Georgia, Texas, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Nineteen of these properties are in the Atlanta region. All together, the properties constitute more than 17,000 units. At least half of the units have elevators that serve every unit, requiring that each unit comply with the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements. Post operates many of these properties as rentals.
On August 10, 2010, the Division filed a complaint in United States v. Cogan (W.D. Ky.), against the owners, developers, architects, and civil engineers of the Park Place Apartments in Louisville for failing to design and construct the 276-unit complex with the accessible features required by the Fair Housing Act.
On March 30, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Murphy Development, LLC (M.D. Tenn.), a Fair Housing Act design and construction case which alleged Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act violations at 21 properties located in and around Nashville and Knoxville, Tennessee. The order, requires that Defendants pay $350,000 for a fund for aggrieved persons and $75,000 to the United States and make retrofits at the properties.
On January 28, 2010, the court entered a consent order in United States v. Portzen Construction (S.D. Iowa), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice case in which the Division alleged that the builder, owner, and designer/draftsman designed and constructed two Davenport-area apartment complexes without the requisite accessibility features. The consent order requires: the builder and owner to remediate the accessibility barriers; the designer/draftsman to establish a $175,000 retrofit fund; and the defendants to comply with training and reporting requirements and establish a $40,000 victim compensation fund.
Discriminatory Land Use and Zoning Practices
On November 30, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Polk County (M.D. Fla.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice group home case alleging discrimination on the basis of disability. The consent decree provides for $280,000 to New Life Outreach Ministries, Inc., $80,000 for aggrieved persons identified by the Department of Justice, and a $40,000 civil penalty. The consent decree also provides for comprehensive injunctive relief, including training for Polk County’s Board of Commissioners.
On September 16, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. City of Satsuma (S.D. Ala.), a pattern or practice case under the Fair Housing Act, which alleged that the city failed to make a reasonable accommodation to allow a group home for three women with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The settlement requires the defendants to pay $59,500 to aggrieved persons and a $5,500 civil penalty. The city has also adopted a reasonable accommodation policy and other amendments to its zoning ordinance and business license law to prevent future discrimination.
On July 28, 2010, the Division filed a complaint in United States v. Dalton Township (W.D. Mich.), alleging that the Township violated the Fair Housing Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to grant a reasonable accommodation to a group home for persons recovering from drug and alcohol addiction.
On June 17, 2010, the court entered a consent decree resolving United States v. City of Columbus (S.D. Ind.), a Fair Housing Act pattern or practice case. The complaint, filed on September 30, 2009 alleged that the City discriminated on the basis of disability when it denied a permit for the operation of a home for recovering addicts. Under the decree, the city will adopt a procedure for processing reasonable accommodations to its zoning ordinance, and pay $18,000 in monetary damages to the providers of the proposed home and a $6,000 civil penalty to the United States.
In addition to these and the many other cases that we bring to ensure fair housing opportunities, the Division also is involved in ongoing efforts to educate the public and various entities involved in the housing industry about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act. On March 5, 2008, we issued a Joint Statement on Reasonable Modifications under the Fair Housing Act with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The joint statement provides technical assistance, in a series of questions and answers, regarding the rights and obligations of persons with disabilities and housing providers relating to reasonable modifications, and is available online at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/fairhousing/reasonable_modifications_mar08.pdf.
In 2004, we issued a Joint Statement on Reasonable Accommodations with HUD, providing technical assistance relating to reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. It is available online at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/jointstatement_ra.htm.
Since 2005, we have held Multi-Family Housing Access Forums, intended to assist developers, architects and others understand the FHA’s accessibility requirements, and to promote a dialogue between the developers of multi-family housing and persons with disabilities and their advocates.We have held events in Houston, TX; Chantilly, VA; Dallas, TX; Atlanta, GA; Phoenix, AZ; Minneapolis, MN; Miami, FL; Seattle, WA; Philadelphia, PA; Kansas City, MO; Boston, MA; and Memphis, TN. The next Access Forum will be held in the spring of 2011 in a location to be announced. For more information, see http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/fairhousing/access_forum.htm.
Public Accommodations (Title II)
On August 19, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Lucky Joy Restaurant, Inc. (E.D.N.Y.), resolving claims of religious discrimination against the Lucky Joy restaurant in Flushing, N.Y. In the consent decree, the restaurant’s owner, Lucky Joy Restaurant Inc., and its president, Xiao Rong Wu, admit that the restaurant engaged in a pattern or practice of wrongfully ejecting Falun Gong practitioners from the premises. The investigation, conducted jointly by the Housing and Civil Enforcement Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, revealed that Lucky Joy servers ejected ten patrons, including an eight-year-old girl, on three separate occasions during 2008 because members of their parties wore shirts displaying the tenets of the Falun Gong spiritual movement. Under the consent decree, the defendants are enjoined from discriminating against any patron based on religion, religious expression, religious dress or association with Falun Gong. Additionally, the defendants and their staff will attend training regarding the non-discrimination requirements of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, will adopt non-discrimination policies and procedures which will be posted publicly (in English and Chinese), and will finance independent testing designed to ensure that Lucky Joy no longer discriminates. The complaint was filed on August 12, 2010.
On July 19, 2010, the court entered a consent decree in United States v. Pasco County Fair Association, Inc. (M.D. Fla.), a Title II case filed on July 15, 2010, alleging that the Fair Association discriminated against Hispanic customers and prospective customers of a reception hall located on the county fairgrounds, by, among other things, quoting them higher rental deposits than non-Hispanic white customers. The consent decree prohibits the fair association from discriminating on the basis of national origin in the provision of goods, services and facilities at the fairgrounds and the reception hall. The decree also requires training of the association’s board members and employees, the adoption of nondiscrimination policies and procedures, the posting of nondiscrimination policies in Spanish and English, the adoption’ of complaint resolution procedures, the retention of an outside contractor to test the associations compliance with Title II, and monitoring by the Division.
On May 13, 2010, the Division appeared in United States Bankruptcy Court to present its position regarding the U.S. Response to the Trustees’ Motion for Sale of the property of the Valley Club of Huntingdon Valley in United States v. The Valley Club of Huntingdon Valley (E.D. Pa.). The complaint in this case, filed on January 13, 2010, alleged that the Valley Club engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination on the basis of race or color in violation of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Section 2000a, et seq. In its Response, the United States had requested that the Court inquire to what extent the bidders intend to use the pool and property as a public accommodation and to give due weight to a bidde’rs commitment to operate the pool and property as a public accommodation consistent with Title II. The Court granted the United States’ request for permission to query the bidders. After conducting this inquiry, the Court approved the sale of the Valley Club property.
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA)
On November 17, 2010, the court in Estes v. Rutherford County Planning Comm’n (Chancery Court of Rutherford County, Tennessee) ruled that Rutherford County acted properly in granting a building permit to a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. On October 20, 2010, the United States filed an amicus brief arguing that Islam is a religion, that a mosque is a place of religious worship, and that the county has obligations under RLUIPA to treat all places of worship equally.
On November 15, 2010, the court held that the City’s administrative zoning decisions do not preclude the congregation's RLUIPA claims in federal court in Congregation Etz Chaim v. City of Los Angeles (C.D. Cal.). In making its ruling, the court quoted extensively from the United States’ Statement of Interest, which was filed on November 1, 2010.
On September 21, 2010, the Justice Department issued a report marking the 10th anniversary of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), showing that the law has had a positive impact on protecting the religious freedom of a wide range of faith groups, and had a particularly significant impact protecting the religious freedom of minorities. The Department also issued a policy statement with questions and answers relating to RLUIPA’s land-use provisions.
On September 13, 2010, the Division filed a complaint in United States v. City of Walnut (C.D. Cal.), alleging that the city violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), when, in 2008, it denied a conditional use permit to the Chung Tai Zen Center. The Zen Center sought the permit so that it could build and operate a Buddhist house of worship at property it then owned in the city. The complaint alleges that until it denied the Zen Center’s application in January 2008, the city had not rejected any application for a conditional use permit to build, expand or operate a house of worship since at least 1980. The complaint further alleges that the city treated the Zen Center differently from similarly situated religious and non-religious facilities.
On June 17, 2010, the Court entered a consent decree in United States v. Village of Suffern (S.D.N.Y.), a case alleging that the Village’s denial of a zoning permit violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The complaint, which was filed on September 26, 2006, alleged that Sufferns' denial of a variance to Bikur Cholim to operate a "Shabbos House" near Good Samaritan Hospital substantially burdened the religious exercise of Orthodox Jews, in violation of Section 2(a) of RLUIPA. The Shabbos House provides food and lodging on the Sabbath and other holy days to Orthodox Jews whose family members are being treated at the hospital so that they may obey the precepts of their religion to serve the needs of the sick and observe the Sabbath and other holy days. The consent decree enjoins the defendant from further violations of the Act and requires it to allow the Shabbos House to operate, comply with record keeping and reporting provisions, and provide training for its zoning staff.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
On October 27, 2010, the Division participated in oral argument as amicus in Gordon v. Pete’s Auto Service of Denbigh, Inc. (4th Cir.), supporting the servicemember’s argument that there is a private right of action to enforce the provision of the SCRA that requires lienholders to get a court order before enforcing a lien on a servicemember’s property. The court ordered supplemental briefing on whether amendments made to the SCRA on October 13, 2010, adding an explicit private right of action, are retroactive. On November 29, 2010, the Division filed a supplemental brief arguing that the amendment providing an express private right of action for damages should apply retroactively in this case.
On June 25, 2010, the Division filed a brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit arguing that the appellate court should uphold the district courts’ ruling of March 11, 2010 in United States v. Aristocrat Towing, Inc. (E.D. Va.) that the United States can file suit for damages under Section 537 of the SCRA. In an earlier ruling on November 6, 2009, the district court issued an order granting summary judgment on liability to the United States. Resolving "a question of first impression," the court adopted the United States’ position that Section 537 of the SCRA is a strict liability statute and found that servicemembers need not notify towing companies of their active duty status in order to benefit from the SCRA’s protections. The amended complaint alleges that a towing company in Norfolk, Virginia violated the SCRA by towing and selling servicemembers’ cars without court orders. The court is holding this case in abeyance pending the outcome of Gordon v. Pete’s Auto Service of Denbigh, Inc. (4th Cir.).