WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against a Gulfport, Miss., newspaper and a landlord and her agent for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against families with children.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, charges that Penny Pincher, a weekly want-ad newspaper distributed along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the act by accepting and publishing 10 advertisements for rental housing that stated illegal preferences against families with children. The suit also charges that, by placing one of those ads and by orally stating an illegal preference against renting to families with children, Lynn Cooley and Michael Law violated the Fair Housing Act.
"Housing discrimination against families with children has been illegal for more than 20 years, but it remains a persistent problem," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department will continue its vigorous enforcement of fair housing laws that protect the rights of families with children."
"The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to helping to eradicate all forms of housing discrimination in the Southern District of Mississippi. All citizens and their families should be free to choose where they want to live without fear of discrimination," said Donald R. Burkhalter, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
"There is no room for discrimination against families with children in America’s communities," stated John Trasviña, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. "In Gulfport and around the country, HUD works close with the Department of Justice to take swift action where we believe housing discrimination has occurred."
This lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with the HUD by a fair housing group and a woman with three children who was searching for housing for her family. The woman’s search led her to Penny Pincher, in which she read Cooley’s ad offering a house for rent with the proviso, "no children." She contacted the housing group, Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, which conducted testing at Cooley’s property and monitored the advertisements published by Penny Pincher. After HUD investigated the complaints, it issued three charges of discrimination and the matters were referred to the Justice Department.
The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions and a civil penalty.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at www.usdoj.gov/crt. Individuals who believe that they have been victims of housing discrimination can call the Housing Discrimination Tip Line at 1-800-896-7743, e-mail the Justice Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777.
The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.