WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced a settlement that, pending court approval, will resolve allegations that the GuideOne Mutual Insurance Company and two authorized agents discriminated because of religion when they advertised special benefits and discounts only to "churchgoers" and "persons of faith." 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 complaint, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in conjunction with a proposed consent decree, alleges that the defendants offered a special endorsement to their homeowners and renters insurance policies at no extra charge called FaithGuard, which provides special benefits and discounts only to "churchgoers" and "persons of faith." GuideOne offered the FaithGuard endorsement in at least 19 states and used an application form that included a space for applicants to indicate their "denomination."
"Discrimination on the basis of someone’s religious faith is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "All individuals have the right to secure homeowners and renters insurance without regard to their religious beliefs, and the Civil Rights Division will continue to ensure those rights are protected."
The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants’ conduct constitutes a pattern or practice of discrimination or a denial of rights to a group of persons. The suit arose as a result of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by two individuals, one an atheist and one an agnostic, and by the Lexington Fair Housing Council, a non-profit fair housing organization. After investigating the complaints, HUD issued a charge of discrimination, and after one of the complainants elected to have the case heard in federal court, the case was referred to the Justice Department.
"We thank the Justice Department and the parties for reaching an equitable settlement that advances the principles of equality and non-discrimination in access to homeowners and renters insurance," said John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
The settlement also requires GuideOne to stop selling homeowners and renters insurance policies with the FaithGuard endorsement, train GuideOne insurance agents on their responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act and provide periodic reports to the Justice Department.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status. 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.