An individual who believes that he or she may have been the victim of housing discrimination on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability may file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD]. HUD investigates each complaint, and if the complaint cannot be resolved through a conciliation process, HUD will determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the Act has been violated. When HUD makes this determination, it issues a written Determination of Reasonable Cause or No Reasonable Cause. If reasonable cause is found, HUD also prepares a Charge of Discrimination.
Within 30 days of the issuance of the charge, the complainant or the respondent (the party alleged to have discriminated) may choose to have the charge tried in federal court, otherwise the charge is tried in a HUD administrative law court.
If federal court is chosen, the case is filed by Department of Justice attorneys on the complainant's behalf. The case can be heard by a federal judge or a jury. Both compensatory and punitive damages can be awarded to the complainant. If the Department believes that the individual complaint is part of a larger pattern or practice of discrimination, the Department may also include broader charges and seek relief for other individuals and other relief, including civil penalties (a fine paid to the government).
In the administrative court, HUD attorneys handle the case on the complainant's behalf. There is no jury. The administrative law judge may award compensatory, but no punitive damages and may also assess civil penalties against the respondent. The administrative process usually takes less time than the federal court process.
The same rules of evidence and procedure are used in both types of proceedings and both courts can order injunctive relief and issue written opinions. Complainants may intervene and be represented by their own lawyers in both courts. Appeals from both types of courts are heard by the United States Courts of Appeals.