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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, February 23, 2009
Justice Department Sues Housing Authority in Wayne County, Ill., for Race Discrimination

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department today filed a lawsuit against the Wayne County Housing Authority (WCHA), in Fairfield, Ill., as well as Jill Masterson and Danna Sutton, WCHA’s executive director and assistant director, respectively, alleging that they violated the Fair Housing Act when they tried to discourage a white couple from renting their property in Fairfield to an African-American woman.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, alleges that the defendants discriminated against a white couple who were planning to rent a house to an African-American woman through the Housing Choice Voucher program (also known as Section 8). The Housing Choice Voucher program provides rental assistance to eligible low-income families, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Wayne County, Ill., receives federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the Housing Choice Voucher program.

The complaint alleges that the defendants made racially discriminatory statements to the couple, and "failed" their property at the mandatory inspection, which required the couple to make certain repairs and be inspected again before they could rent their unit under the Housing Choice Voucher program. By contrast, the complaint alleges that when WCHA found similar deficiencies at other properties in the Housing Choice Voucher program, its practice has been to "pass" the property and verbally counsel the landlords to make the repairs. The complaint alleges that defendants took these actions to discourage the couple from renting the property to the African-American woman. The complaint also alleges that the defendants determined that the property would have to be re-inspected because the couple had complained about racially discriminatory comments allegedly made by Sutton.

The lawsuit originated from a complaint filed with HUD by the couple. After an investigation, HUD found reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination had occurred and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

"It is against the law for public housing authorities to engage in racially discriminatory housing practices. Public housing authorities should support, not hinder, landlords who want to rent their properties in compliance with the Fair Housing Act," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King. "We will continue to vigorously prosecute those who stand in the way of achieving the Fair Housing Act’s goal of allowing all people to live in the communities of their choice, regardless of their race."

U.S. Attorney A. Courtney Cox for the Southern District of Illinois emphasized the importance of all people receiving equal treatment under the law regardless of race.  "The United States Attorney’s Office will do everything in its power to assure that all of the citizens of Southern Illinois have equal access to housing as guaranteed by law."

"All housing discrimination is deplorable.  It’s worse still when taxpayer-supported public housing authorities allegedly use federal dollars to discriminate," said Bryan Greene, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at HUD. "HUD will pursue allegations of housing discrimination in all their forms, whether it’s in public or private housing.  We’re pleased to have the Department of Justice as a partner in this effort."

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for the couple and a court order barring future discrimination.

Fighting illegal housing discrimination is a top priority of the Justice Department. The 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 http://www.usdoj.gov/crt. Additional information about the Fair Housing Act is also available at www.HUD.gov.

The complaint is an allegation of unlawful conduct. The allegations must still be proven in federal court.

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